A staggering increase in natural disasters over the last 20 years shows the risk of the Earth becoming an “uninhabitable hell for millions of people” if climate change isn’t brought under control, a United Nations agency warned in a report issued last week.
The 7,348 major natural disasters—including earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes—between 2000 and 2019 killed 1.23 million people, affected 4.2 billion, produced in US$2.97 trillion in global economic losses, and represented nearly a doubling compared to the 4,212 disasters that took place between 180 and 2009, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) concluded.
“The vast majority of those disasters were climate-related, with researchers reporting more flooding, storms, droughts, heat waves, hurricanes, and wildfires in the past 20 years,” CTV News reports. “The sharp increase has been attributed to rising global temperatures, which scientists say is increasing the frequency of extreme weather and disaster events.”
“It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction,” said the UN special representative for disaster risk reduction, Mami Mizutori, and Debarati Guha-Sapir, director of Belgium’s Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, in the foreword to the report. “It really is all about governance if we want to deliver this planet from the scourge of poverty, further loss of species and biodiversity, the explosion of urban risk and the worst consequences of global warming.”
The study found that Asia faced 3,068 disasters over the 20-year span, far ahead of the Americas at 1,756 and Africa at 1,192, and China alone endured more than 500 of them. And while early warning systems and responses have helped protect people, “the odds continue to be stacked against” an effective response, the study warned.
“In particular by industrial nations that are failing miserably on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to levels commensurate with the desired goal of keeping global warming at 1.5°C as set out in the Paris Agreement,” Mizutori and Guha-Sapir noted.
A separate report last week by the World Meteorological Organization called for a shift to impact-based forecasting—from “what the weather will be” to “what the weather will do”—that would prompt endangered households and businesses to take early action as a climate disaster approaches.
“Early warning systems constitute a prerequisite for effective disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Being prepared and able to react at the right time, in the right place, can save many lives and protect the livelihoods of communities everywhere.”