Political and business leaders’ failure to adequately address the climate crisis in the face of dramatically increasing natural disasters during the 21st century is turning much of the planet into an “unihabitable hell for millions of people,” the United Nations warned on Monday.
In a report released ahead of International Day for Disaster Reduction, the United Nations Office on Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) noted that 7,348 major disasters claimed more than 1.3 million lives and affected some 4.2 billion people around the world in the years 2000 to 2019. The world body estimates the economic cost of these disasters at nearly $3 trillion. This marks a staggering increase from 4,212 disasters over the previous 20-year period.
Since 2000, major floods have more than doubled, while major storms increased by nearly 50%. Other categories of disasters—including drought, wildfires, and extreme temperature events—also rose significantly.
“Much of the difference is explained by a rise in climate-related disasters including extreme weather events,” the report states.
The average number of global deaths caused by major disasters from 2000 to 2019 was approximately 60,000 per year. The countries most affected by disaster events during this period were China (577 events), the United States (467 events), and India (321 events).
Mami Mizutori, the U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative for disaster risk reduction, accused humanity of being “willfully destructive.”
“That is the only conclusion one can come to when reviewing disaster events over the last 20 years,” she said. “Covid-19 is but the latest proof that political and business leaders are yet to tune in to the world around them.”
Mizutori said that “[we] are fighting an uphill battle against an ever-rising tide of extreme weather events” and that “the odds are being stacked against us when we fail to act on science and early warnings to invest in prevention, climate change adaptation, and disaster risk reduction.”
“Disaster management agencies have succeeded in saving many lives through improved preparedness and the dedication of staff and volunteers,” Mizutori added. “But the odds continue to be stacked against them, in particular by industrial nations that are failing miserably on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Professor Debarati Guha-Sapir of the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the University of Louvain in Belgium ominously warned that “if this level of growth in extreme weather events continues over the next twenty years, the future of mankind looks very bleak indeed.”
“We will have to live with the consequences of existing levels of climate change for a long time to come,” Guha-Sapir said. She added that there are many ways “to reduce the burden of disaster losses, especially on low and middle-income countries.”
These nations, she said, “lack resources and are most exposed to economic losses on a scale that undermines their efforts to eradicate poverty and to provide good quality social services including health and education.”
Although the UNDRR report notes that there has been some success in protecting vulnerable communities from the effects of natural disasters—largely due to improved early warning systems and disaster preparedness and response—the projected rise in global temperatures in coming decades threatens to make these improvements “obsolete in many countries,” according to UNDRR.
“Currently, the world is on course for a temperature increase of 3.2 degrees Celsius or more, unless industrialized nations can deliver reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 7.2% annually over the next 10 years in order to achieve the 1.5 degree target agreed in Paris,” the report’s foreword states.