Weather and climate hazards less deadly – but much more frequent and costly
Over the past 50 years, more than 11,000 disasters have been attributed to weather, climate and water-related hazards, involving 2 million deaths and US$ 3.6 trillion in economic losses. While the average number of deaths recorded for each disaster has fallen by a third during this period, the number of recorded disasters has increased five times and the economic losses have increased by a factor of seven, according to a new report by UN agencies and partners. This data is part of a report released today, 13 October, on International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction which was prepared by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and 17 partner organisations.
Extreme weather and climate events have increased in frequency, intensity and severity as result of climate change, hitting vulnerable communities disproportionately hard. Yet one in three people are still not adequately covered by early warning systems, according to the 2020 State of Climate Services report.
In 2018, globally, around 108 million people required help from the international humanitarian system as a result of storms, floods, droughts and wildfires. By 2030, it is estimated that this number could increase by almost 50 percent at a cost of around US$ 20 billion a year, it says.
The report stresses the need to switch to impact-based forecasting – an evolution from “what the weather will be” to “what the weather will do” so that people and businesses can act early based on the warnings. It contains 16 different case studies on successful early warning systems for hazards including tropical cyclones and hurricanes, floods, droughts, heatwaves, forest fires, sand and dust storms, desert locusts, severe winters and glacial lake outbursts.
“No individual country is self-reliant and self-contained when it comes to these types of systems and services. They all rely on this global grid of observations, on global models regional models, and then finally on the provision services that takes place at the country level," said Maxx Dilley, Director of Climate Services at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) at the media launch in Geneva. "So it’s very important that entire system be resourced ” he explained, to strengthen protection for the most vulnerable countries with least capacity at the national level.
WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, speaking via teleconference from Finland, welcomed recent pledges by the European Union and China on achieving carbon neutrality, saying that he hoped the United States would also "join the club".In response to a question specifically about China, Mr Taalas explained that “China is contributing 25 percent of the global emissions, and one of your major challenges is that your energy production is very much based on coal fire power plants. On the other hand, you have world-record investments in renewable energy, you have invested a lot in solar wind energy and you also have become an important exporter of such technology." Mentioning such challenges as diminishing water supply in the rivers and rising sea-water levels in the East, which could eventually threaten economic activities, he that there is "good reason also from a Chinese perspective to improve the situation and paying growing attention climate mitigation”.
Nearly 90 percent of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States have identified early warning systems as a top priority in their Nationally Determined Contributions on climate change. However, many of them lack the necessary capacity and financial investment is not always flowing into the areas where investment is most needed.
The situation is particularly acute in small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs). Since 1970, SIDS have lost US$ 153 billion due to weather, climate and water related hazards – a significant amount given that the average GDP for SIDS is US$ 13.7 billion. Meanwhile, 1.4 million people (70% of the total deaths) in LDCs lost their lives due to weather, climate and water related hazards in that time period.
Data provided by 138 WMO Members shows that just 40% of them have Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (MHEWS). This means that globally on average one in three people is still not covered by early warnings. Currently, only 75 WMO Members (39%) indicated that they provide impact-based forecasting services.
Dissemination of warnings is weak in many developing countries, and advances in communication technologies are not being fully exploited to reach out to people at risk, especially in LDCs.
There is insufficient capacity worldwide to translate early warning into early action – especially in LDCs. Africa faces the largest gaps in capacity. Across this vast continent, while capacity is good in terms of risk knowledge and forecasting, just 44,000 of people in 100,000 are covered by early warnings, in countries where data is available.
All weather and climate services rely on data from systematic observations. However, observing networks are often inadequate, particularly across Africa where, in 2019, just 26% of stations met WMO reporting requirements.
An increase in climate-related disasters indicates that upscaling of adaptation investment across the board is required, according to the report, including specifically in reducing weather-water and climate-related risks through investments in improving access to risk information and multi-hazard early warning systems enhancement.
The good news is that climate finance has reached record levels, crossing the US$ half-trillion mark for the first time in 2017-18. Action still falls far short of what is needed under a 1.5˚C scenario, however. Estimates include that US$ 180 billion will be needed annually for the period 2020-2030, as suggested by the Global Commission on Adaptation. Despite annual tracked climate finance reaching the half-trillion-dollar mark for the first time in 2018, adaptation finance is only a very small fraction (5%) and financing for risk information and early warning systems is only a fraction of that.