Extreme weather and climate-related disasters have killed 410,000 people since 2010, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The “World Disaster Report 2020” group released yesterday says the most frequent and severe disasters threaten to exacerbate humanitarian crises and lead to economic hardship even when the number of global deaths falls due to steps to improve resilience.
The aid organization warns that major disasters are occurring more and more one after another, such as the half-dozen typhoons and tropical storms that have hit Southeast Asia since early October.
Combining data on thousands of disasters the federation has responded to in the past decade, the IFRC says 83% of them were climate-related in some way, usually severe floods, violent storms and deadly heat waves.
“The number of such catastrophes caused by extreme weather and climate-related events has increased since the 1960s and has increased by almost 35% since the 1990s,” the new report say
“These extreme weather and climate-related disasters have killed more than 410,000 people in the last ten years, the vast majority in low- and middle-income countries,” says the IFRC. “The heat waves, then the storms, have been the biggest killers.”
The group said 308 major natural disasters occurred in 2019. Of these, 237 could be related to weather and climate in some way. The most frequent were major floods, with 127 occurring last year. After the floods were great storms, diseases and earthquakes.
IFRC representative Alison Freebairn said not every event the group counted could be conclusively linked to man-made global warming. But she noted that researchers and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have uncovered strong evidence that greenhouse gases have made these weather-related disasters more occurring and more devastating when they occur.
She noted recent findings arguing climate change made the devastating 2019-2020 fire season in Australia 30% more likely.
“What we know about the impacts of climate change is from the IPCC reports, which give high, medium or low confidence that certain events were made more likely due to climate change. And then we also know that climate change makes extreme climate and weather events more frequent and intense and variable, ”Freebairn explained.
“Statistics show that we had exactly that; more frequent and intense extreme climate and weather-related catastrophes in both real numbers and as a percentage of all catastrophes, ”she added.
Ilan Noy, an economist at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, specializes in researching the economic costs of climate change-related disasters. He said organizations like IFRC and insurance companies are increasingly capable of linking natural disasters to climate change given advances in attribute science.
“While it was previously hypothesized that they are related to climate change, we really did not have strong scientific evidence to prove it,” Noy said. “Now I think in the last five years climate science has advanced and indeed they have much stronger statements, or by producing much stronger scientific statements about the links between weather events and climate change.”
Noy’s study argues that global warming is making rare natural disasters more likely and frequent. But he warns that while such estimates can be made for major disasters in specific countries or regions, it is difficult to do so for the world as a whole.
“For that, you have to determine the amount of probability change of all these extreme events that are happening globally, and science is not there yet,” he said.
The IFRC report expresses concern about “simultaneous and successive catastrophes” that leave affected populations “with little time to recover before the next blow comes”.
For example, the United Nations is still trying to provide emergency assistance to 675,000 people in Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam after Typhoon Goni and Typhoon Vamco. The storms followed nearly identical tracks within two weeks of each other this month, with Vamco hitting northern Vietnam on Sunday and Monday. The UN said Typhoon Goni was “the strongest tropical cyclone in the world this year so far”.
The IFRC Freebairn said there is a bright spot in the bleak data.
“The big news is that deaths are falling even as the number and severity of events has increased and the population has increased,” she said. “And that’s a great sign that we hope it says disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation efforts are working.”
But the IFRC argues that governments need to do much more in mitigating and adapting the climate, supporting the United Nations call for COVID-19 pandemic recovery funds aimed at reducing emissions and building resilience.
The report recommends designing all new infrastructure to “resist the predicted extremes of climate and weather and rising sea levels”.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.
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