Climate change causes 2m deaths in 50 years; poor suffer most: UN

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News Desk

More than 2 million people have perished in over 12,000 extreme weather, climate and water-related events over the last 50 years, the UN weather agency said Monday (22 May).

Besides, $4.3 trillion in economic damage caused by extreme weather conditions has been recorded over the past half a century.

According to new figures published by the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), some 1,778 weather-related disasters occurred between 1970 and 2021, and the number of such events surged over that period.

The report found that more than 90% of deaths reported worldwide due to climate-related disasters took place in developing countries.

“The most vulnerable communities unfortunately bear the brunt of weather, climate and water-related hazards,” WMO chief Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

Cyclone Mocha, which wreaked havoc in Myanmar and Bangladesh last week, exemplified this reality. The severe storm “caused widespread devastation, … impacting the poorest of the poor”, Taalas said.

“In the past, both Myanmar and Bangladesh suffered death tolls of tens and even hundreds of thousands of people,” he said, alluding to previous catastrophes. “Thanks to early warnings and disaster management these catastrophic mortality rates are now thankfully history.”

“Early warnings save lives,” he said.

The Geneva-based agency has repeatedly warned about the impact of man-made climate change, saying rising temperatures have increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather – including floods, hurricanes, cyclones and drought.

The new data was on Monday published after World Meteorological Organisation opened its four-year congress among member countries, pressing the message that more needs to be done to improve alert systems for extreme weather events by 2027.

The findings were part of an update to WMO’s Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes, which previously had covered a nearly 50-year period through 2019.

Asia faced over 3,600 disasters, costing 984,263 lives and $1.4 trillion in economic losses – that cost mostly due to the impact of cyclones. South America had 943 disasters that resulted in 58,484 deaths and over $115 billion in economic losses.

In Africa, WMO counted more than 1,800 disasters and 733,585 deaths related to weather, climate and water extremes – including flooding and storm surges. The costliest was Tropical Cyclone Idai in 2019, which ran to $2.1 billion in damages.

Over 2,100 disasters in North America, Central America and the Caribbean led to 77,454 deaths and $2 trillion in economic losses.

Europe saw nearly 1,800 disasters, leading to 166,492 deaths and $562 billion in economic losses.

Nearly 1,500 disasters hit the southwest Pacific, causing 66,951 deaths and $185.8 billion in economic losses.

Extreme temperatures were the top cause of reported deaths; floods were the main cause of economic losses.

Last week, WMO forecast a 66% chance that within the next five years, the Earth will face a year that averages 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than in the mid-19th century, reaching a key threshold targeted by the Paris climate accord of 2015.

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