Climate Change and Disasters

Since the Industrial Revolution, mankind has led to climate change at an alarming rate by continuously emitting greenhouse gases. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies [GISS] has found that the average global temperature has increased by at least 1.1°C (1.9°F) since 1880. Climate change is increasing the scale, frequency, and severity of disasters. According to a recent IPCC report, the number of global disasters has increased four to five times over the past 50 years. While 711 disasters occurred around the world in the 1970s, there were 3,536 disasters in the 2000s.

The IPCC report also pointed out that a 1.5°C increase in global average temperature could be reached by the early 2030s, which is much earlier than expected. It is estimated that around 40% of the world’s population is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and the impacts and risks are becoming complex and difficult to manage. Multiple climate hazards are predicted to occur simultaneously, and multiple climatic and non-climatic risks will interact, resulting in compounding and cascading risks across sectors and regions.

Why 1°C Change in Temperature Is Serious

The international community, scientists, and media outlets always emphasize that the world’s average temperature must not exceed that of preindustrial times by more than 1.5°C (2.7°F). Why should we care about one or two degrees of global warming?

The temperature difference that we experience in our daily lives can exceed with an uncertainty of several tenths of a degree due to daily temperature range, weather, and seasons. However, the temperature of the earth mainly depends on how much energy it receives from the sun and how much energy it emits into space. The energy coming from the Sun fluctuates very little by year, while the amount of energy radiated by Earth is closely tied to the chemical composition of the atmosphere—particularly the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

It takes a vast amount of heat to warm all of the oceans, the atmosphere, and the land. A one-degree global change is that much significant. The Little Ice Age, which brought about wars, famines, and epidemics in the past, was all about a 1–2°C drop in Earth’s temperature. A 5°C drop was enough to bury the earth under a towering mass of ice 20,000 years ago.

The Impact of the Climate Crisis

A climate emergency is the biggest economic, social, and environmental threat that the earth and mankind face. It affects all aspects of natural and human systems. This hinders the decades of development and potentially regresses it. As climatic conditions change, climate-related disasters, including storms, extreme heat, floods, droughts, and wildfires, have almost doubled, compared with the past two decades. These meteorological and climate hazards directly and indirectly affect health, increasing the risk of death, non-infection communicable diseases, emergence and spread of infectious diseases, and health emergencies. It has also exacerbated inequality within and between countries, as the countries that contribute the least to carbon emissions often experience the worst impacts of climate emergencies.

More fundamentally, climate shocks and growing stresses such as changing temperatures, precipitation patterns, droughts, floods, and rising sea levels degrade the environmental and social determinants of physical and mental health. All aspects of health are affected by climate change, from clean air, water, and soil to food systems and livelihoods. Further delay in tackling climate change will increase health risks, undermine decades of improvements in global health, and contravene our collective commitments to ensure the human right to health for all.

We are at a crossroads. The climate crisis is weakening our ability to achieve the SDGs 2030. The transition to a sustainable, zero-carbon world requires rapid changes at the systemic level, including key sectors such as energy, food, and health.

Climate change is the defining issue of our time. Every day we fail to act is a day that we step a little closer towards a fate that none of us wants—a fate that will resonate through generations in the damage done to humankind and life on earth.– UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction

In 1989, the UN Head Office designated October 13 as International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction to promote a global culture that reduces disaster risk. This day organized by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction [UNDRR], aims to confirm the global progress in preventing and reducing disaster risk and loss.

The Day’s theme aligns with the Sendai Framework, the international agreement to prevent and reduce losses in lives, livelihoods, economies, and basic infrastructure. The Sendai Framework complements the Paris Agreement on Climate Change to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Sendai Framework

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 was adopted by the UN member states at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, on March 18, 2015. It aims to significantly reduce disaster risk and loss in economic, physical, social, cultural, and environmental assets of individuals, companies, communities, and countries over 15 years.

Theme for 2023: Fighting Inequality for a Resilient Future

This year’s theme of International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction is fighting inequality for a resilient future, examining the interrelationship between disasters and inequality. Unequal access to services, such as finance and insurance, leaves the most at risk exposed to the danger of disasters; while disaster impacts exacerbate inequalities and push the most at risk further into poverty.

Poverty, inequality, and discrimination are causes and consequences of growing disaster risk. Inequality creates the conditions that lead people to become exposed and vulnerable to disasters. Disasters also disproportionately impact the poorest and most at risk, thus furthering inequality. Reducing vulnerability to disasters requires addressing these dimensions.

  • About 75% of extreme weather events are currently connected to climate change, fueled by carbon emissions. The countries experiencing the greatest losses from disasters are those who contributed the least to the problem (Climate Adaptation Platform, 2022).
  • In the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, persons with disabilities were twice as likely to die. Higher mortality rates among at risk groups are directly linked to a range of poverty factors (Rehabilitation International, 2014).
  • From 1970 through 2019, the UN found that 91% of all deaths from weather, climate, and water hazards occurred in developing countries.
  • By 2030, with current climate projections, the world will face about 560 disasters per year. It is estimated that 37.6 million will be added to the number of people living in conditions of extreme poverty due to the impacts of climate change and disasters by 2030. A worst case scenario of climate change and disasters will push an additional 100.7 million into poverty by 2030.
  • We can curb the destructive power of hazards through careful and coordinated planning that is designed to reduce people’s exposure and vulnerability to harm. In other words, we can stop them from turning into disasters.
  • Greater investments are needed in the collection and use of disaggregated data, both to better understand disproportionate disaster impacts and exposure and to inform resilience-building plans.
  • Global decision makers must make our financial system fit for purpose in delivering finance for the most climate-vulnerable countries. We need to deliver economic resilience for the most at risk from disasters.
  • Countries must engage, build capacity, and empower groups in all decision making processes to reduce disaster risk. Countries must ensure that the most at risk, including women, the elderly, and persons with disabilities are meaningfully included.