Story at a glance

  • A study from the World Meteorological Association reports dangerous weather activity has increased fivefold over the past 50 years.
  • Life and economic losses can both be mitigated with improved investments in emergency weather information systems.

Rampant wildfires, cataclysmic hurricanes and tropical storms, and outbreaks of tornadoes are just some of the notable weather events to occur in the U.S. during 2020, a year already fragmented beyond recognition by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With scientists and experts warning that these escalating events are a result of climate change, the United Nations (U.N.) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released a report warning that these natural disasters are strongly attributed to climate change, and should they continue, are poised to cost about $20 billion in annual economic losses by 2030.


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Based on results from WMO’s 2020 State of Climate Services report, the increasing frequency and severity of dangerous weather patterns confirms that over the past 50 years, more than 11,000 disasters have been linked to climate and weather-related hazards, leaving 2 million deaths and $3.6 trillion in economic losses in their wake. 

Results suggest that in 2018, about 108 million people required humanitarian aid following these natural disasters. By 2030, experts estimate that this number will increase by 50 percent as economic losses mount as well.

To prevent these predicted vulnerabilities, the report advocates for a multi-step governmental approach to invest in early warning systems and impact-based forecasting to help people gauge the actions they need to take if they are in areas subject to severe weather.

“Early warning systems (EWS) constitute a prerequisite for effective disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. 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,” WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas said in prepared remarks.

Unsurprisingly, the most vulnerable locations for people facing severe weather threats are in locations classified as Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), with 90 percent of these nations identifying EWS development as a top priority. 

Preventing them from installing these warning systems is a lack of capital and financial resources. 

Several strategies outlined in the report for governments to adopt include investing in EWS systems in underdeveloped regions, specifically in African LDCs and SIDS, better data collection for under-monitored communities, and tracking financial flows to understand where resources are being allocated in terms of emergency weather monitoring.

A more optimistic find is that the average number of deaths for each disaster has dropped by a third over the last 50 years, but the number of disasters still increased by roughly five times its original number, dragging economic gains down.

While experts push the adaptation of EWS as disaster-mitigation systems, the ultimate culprit is manmade climate change and its adverse effects on humans and the environment. 

“The year 2020 has highlighted the importance of building broad resilience in vulnerable developing countries, to climate change but also to health and economic risks,” Mikko Ollikainen, the manager of the Adaptation Fund, says. “Climate services are critical in achieving resilience, and the Fund plays a crucial role in this partnership through its concrete adaptation projects on the ground serving the most vulnerable communities, with about 20 percent of its portfolio dedicated to supporting countries in building resilience through Early Warning System and Disaster Risk Reduction projects.”


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Published on Oct 13, 2020