Almost half a million people have been killed in natural disasters linked to extreme weather events in the last 20 years, with the world’s poorest countries increasingly bearing the brunt of climate change’s wrath.
The mortality burden of climate-related catastrophes such as storms, flooding, and heatwaves is overwhelmingly borne by developing nations, according to a new assessment of the direct threat posed to humanity by global warming.
At the start of the Climate Adaptation Summit on Monday, held virtually this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the think-tank Germanwatch calculated these disasters have cost the global economy a staggering $2.56 trillion this century.
An analysis of more than 11,000 extreme weather events showed nearly 480,000 fatalities since 2000, with Puerto Rico, Myanmar, and Haiti the worst-hit countries, it said.
Under the 2015 Paris climate deal, wealthier nations are supposed to provide $100bn every year to help poorer states mitigate temperature rises and adapt to the changing climate.
But recent research suggests the true amount of funding available to developing countries for climate action is vastly lower.
Germanwatch’s Global Climate Index examined the impact of two decades of extreme weather events, particularly the 2019 storm season, which produced hurricanes and cyclones that devastated parts of the Caribbean, East Africa and South Asia.
“This shows that poor, vulnerable countries face particularly great challenges in dealing with the consequences of extreme weather events,” said co-author David Eckstein.
He noted that poorer countries had yet to receive the full $100bn a year in climate funding promised by wealthy nations. Richer nations agreed to build up to providing that sum annually, starting in 2020, to help poorer countries adopt cleaner energy systems and adapt to the impacts of planetary warming.
“They urgently need financial and technical assistance,” said Eckstein.
Tropical storms inflict extreme damage
A climate risk index produced by Germanwatch showed that Mozambique and Zimbabwe were the two countries hardest-hit by extreme weather in 2019.
Both were struck by Idai, the deadliest and costliest cyclone recorded in the southwest Indian Ocean.
Just last weekend, central Mozambique was hammered again by another tropical storm, Eloise, which wrecked thousands of buildings, ruined crops and displaced almost 7,000 people.
Storms and their effects – strong winds, heavy rainfall, floods and landslides – were the major cause of extreme weather damage in 2019, Germanwatch said. Of the 10 most-affected countries, six were pounded by tropical cyclones.
The Caribbean island nation of the Bahamas was the third worst-hit because of devastation from Hurricane Dorian.
The United States was not included in the 2019 index because of data problems.
Recent research suggests the severity and number of strong tropical cyclones will increase with every tenth of a degree in global average temperature rise, Germanwatch said.
In 2020 – one of the three hottest years on record – the global average temperature was about 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
Money spent inefficiently
Research released last week by international aid agency CARE suggested the actual amount of donor money going to climate change adaptation could be even lower than reported.
Working with other organisations, CARE assessed 112 projects in Ghana, Uganda, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Nepal and Vietnam, representing 13 percent of total global adaptation finance between 2013 and 2017.
It found 42 percent of the money was spent on activities that did little to help communities build resilience to climate change, including a “friendship bridge” and an expressway in Vietnam and a post-earthquake housing reconstruction project in Nepal.
Report author John Nordbo from CARE Denmark said rich nations had not only failed to deliver enough adaptation finance but had also tried to give the impression they are providing more than they do.
“This injustice must be corrected, and a clear plan must be presented to show how they intend to live up to their commitments with real money – and no reporting tricks,” he added in a statement.
‘Enormous toll on human life’
Ahead of Monday’s adaptation summit – to set out practical solutions and plans for dealing with climate change in the period until 2030 – more than 3,000 scientists from across the globe pressed leaders to better protect people from the fallout of global warming.
“Our fast-warming world is already experiencing major disruptions from more intense droughts, fires, heatwaves, floods, destructive tropical cyclones and other extreme events,” the scientists, including five Nobel laureates, said in a statement.
“Unless we step up and adapt now, the results will be increasing poverty, water shortages, agricultural losses and soaring levels of migration with an enormous toll on human life.”
Climate change could depress global food production by up to 30 percent, while rising seas and greater storms could force hundreds of millions in coastal cities out of their homes, summit organiser the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) said.
“There is no vaccine for climate change,” GCA chair and former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told reporters on the eve of the event. “It is happening much, much faster than we think, causing cascading risks and impact. Building resilience to climate change is not nice to have, it is a must-have.”
No binding commitments will be made at the summit, but leaders will try to set an action agenda, charting plans and proposals to create a climate-resilient planet by the end of the decade.
Britain said it plans to team up with Egypt, Bangladesh, Malawi, Saint Lucia and the Netherlands in an initiative that could include early warning systems for storms and investments in flood drainage and in drought-resistant crops.
Leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are expected to contribute by video link.
John Kerry, former US secretary of state and President Joe Biden’s newly appointed climate envoy, will speak at the summit, as will Deputy Chinese Prime Minister Han Zheng.