May 22, 2023 - Energy & Environment

The unequal burden of extreme weather and climate disasters

Reported deaths and disasters worldwide, by United Nations country classification
Data: United Nations; Chart: Axios Visuals

An updated, authoritative United Nations disasters analysis out this morning shows there were nearly 12,000 disasters attributable to extreme weather and climate-related events during the 1970-2021 period, Andrew writes.

The big picture: Such disasters are becoming more expensive, with a total bill of $4.3 trillion and rising. At the same time, however, they are getting less deadly.

  • The pattern of disasters spotlights global inequality, with 90% of the slightly more than 2 million deaths during this period taking place in developing countries.
  • However, the vast majority of economic losses stemmed from industrialized countries.
  • Climate change is influencing the frequency and severity of certain extreme weather and climate events, particularly heat waves, extreme precipitation events and tropical cyclones.
  • However, climate change is not thought to be the biggest driver of disaster loss trends, other research has found.

Zoom in: The update to the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water-related hazards, extends the disaster metrics to 51 years.

  • The U.S. alone took a US$1.7 trillion hit during the 1970-2021 period, accounting for about 40% of economic losses during the past 51 years.
  • Extreme temperatures were the leading cause of reported deaths and floods drove the biggest costs, the WMO found.
  • With certain types of extreme weather and climate events becoming more common and severe, the future of disaster losses will hinge on societal exposure to such hazards.

What we're watching: How the U.N.'s push to deploy early warning systems to every country by 2027 progresses.

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