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Climate change is a major multiplier of disaster losses

Thursday, 11 October 2018 08:23 GMT

Debris is seen on the street after heavy rain and flash floods hit Sant Llorenc de Cardassar on the island of Mallorca, Spain, October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Enrique Calvo

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Measures to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change are just as important as cutting planet-warming gases

Climate change is now a major multiplier of disaster losses worldwide. There has been a doubling of extreme weather events in the last twenty years which have experienced some of the hottest years on record.

A new report published to mark International Day for Disaster Reduction, October 13, spells out clearly that 91% of major disaster events are extreme weather events and they account for 77% of the recorded economic losses from climate and geophysical events.

Total recorded economic losses for the last twenty years are significantly under-reported but come to a total of almost $3 trillion, according to an analysis of the global data base maintained by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).

And, a whopping $2,245 billion of that is attributed to climate-related disasters.

At the end of this year in Poland, governments are set to complete the implementation guidelines of the Paris Climate Change Agreement – a crucial step to ensure that the agreement can be truly effective.

The international community needs to support all nations in their efforts to develop national adaptation plans and to integrate climate change and disaster risk reduction fully into their development objectives.

For this, the developed country pledge of mobilizing $100 billion per year by 2020 for developing countries’ climate change efforts will be crucial.

This is a relatively small investment in light of the size of economic losses from extreme weather events.

Last year set a new record for economic losses caused by extreme weather events, notably floods and storms, which are aided and abetted by record rises in land and sea surface temperatures, rising sea levels and more vapor in the atmosphere.

Global mean temperatures last year were 1.1˚C above pre-industrial temperatures and the world’s nine warmest years have all occurred since 2005. Odds are that 2018 will become the 4th hottest year on record.

These profound changes often find expression in unspeakable tragedies such as the loss of lives, homes and livelihoods in wildfires. Droughts are contributing to a rise in world hunger for the first time in a decade. 

Unprecedented levels of rainfall contribute to the loss of many lives in events such as the collapse of a hillside in Sierra Leone or a dam in Laos. Atlantic hurricane seasons can kill thousands of people. Typhoons in Asia force the evacuation of millions.


What these events are telling us is that the level of risk that already exists is being heightened in an unprecedented way by climate change.

The community of nations has recognized that measures to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change are just as important as cutting greenhouse gases.

The world requires an integrated approach to disaster risk reduction and tackling climate change. This means integrating implementation of the Paris Agreement and the global plan for reducing disaster losses, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The push agreed by UN member states to increase national and local strategies for managing disaster risk includes taking account of the impacts of climate change, poverty, rapid urbanization, environmental degradation and weak regulation of land use and construction.

The failure to adopt a risk-informed approach to social and economic development would have dire consequences in a world that is on course not for the desired 1.5˚C rise in temperatures but 3˚C at current levels of ambition.

There are promising signs regarding action as cities, regions, businesses, investors and non-governmental organizations are increasingly developing resilience and adaptation strategies to cope with climate change impacts.

Many of these stakeholders have begun aligning their strategies with the Paris Agreement, which is encouraging given that governments cannot rise to the challenge on their own.

While governments continue to take the lead, the increasing involvement of other actors is creating a new, more inclusive multilateralism to tackle climate change.

The clock is ticking down. Only by fully translating strategies such as the Sendai Framework, the UN’s Sustainable Global Goals and the Paris Agreement into concrete action at all levels can we adequately protect the peoples of the world and the economies they depend on.

 Mami Mizutori is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction .

Reduction Patricia Espinosa is Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.