Mar 23, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Extreme weather prompts UN early warnings push

Animated illustration of a siren flashing on top of an umbrella.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The United Nation’s weather branch is launching Wednesday an ambitious project to stand up early warning systems in areas increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather and climate events worldwide.

The big picture: In wealthy countries, such as the U.S., much of Europe, Japan, Korea and Australia, citizens have easy access to weather and climate information that can save lives and livelihoods.

  • But for hundreds of millions in Africa, parts of the Middle East and South Asia, there is no equivalent agency to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S.

Driving the news: The Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization (WMO) aims to end this disparity within five years, and is hoping to raise at least $1.5 billion from member governments to do it.

Zoom in: One-third of the global population currently lacks early warning systems, particularly in the least developed countries and small island states. The WMO said 60% of people living in Africa lack such coverage.

  • “This is unacceptable, particularly with climate impacts sure to get even worse,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message.

What they’re saying: “Human-caused climate disruption is now damaging every region. The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change details the suffering already happening," Guterres said in launching the initiative.

  • "Each increment of global heating will further increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events,” he said.

By the numbers: A 2021 WMO report on global disasters found that nearly every day during the past 50 years, a weather, climate or water-related disaster occurred, killing 115 and costing $202 million per day.

  • That report showed that while the number of disasters increased during the 50-year period, the number of lives lost declined, largely because of better forecasts and warnings. But those forecasts and warnings are not benefiting populations equally.

Yes, but: This is a large undertaking for the WMO, which is not a high-profile agency comprised of officials who have significant political capital. Typically, the organization publishes reports and supports global data gathering.

  • The agency aims to create a plan of action by the time of the next UN Climate Summit in Egypt next year, including closing observation gaps and improving both the issuance of warnings and the ability to act on them.
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