Climate change is causing a new natural disaster to strike every week, but developing countries are under-prepared for the consequences, warns the UN.
Although larger catastrophes make the news across the globe, most of the smaller-scale disasters draw little notice from the international community.
UN disaster expert Mami Mizutori told the Guardian that more focus needs to be placed on investments into resilient infrastructure, alongside emission cuts.
It comes after many regions of the world have been rocked by various natural phenomena triggered by climate change, such as cyclones, heatwaves and droughts.
Emphasis should be given to nature based-solutions to the climate hazards — such as promoting the growth of mangrove swamps and wetlands to limit flooding.
In addition, nations need to concentrate on protecting the most vulnerable populations who live in informal settlements rather than planned cities.
Climate change is causing a new natural disaster to strike every week, but developing countries are under-prepared for the consequences, warns the UN. Pictured, the aftermath of tropical cyclone Kenneth on the village of Nacate, Mozambique, in April 2019
WHAT IMPACT DID TROPICAL CYCLONE KENNETH HAVE?
Intense tropical cyclone Kenneth is the largest recorded storm to hit Mozambique.
It followed just a month after cyclone Idai had struck the country’s south.
Before hitting land, the cyclone reached winds of 130 mph (215 kph).
30,000 people were evacuated out of the storm’s path in northern Mozambique by local authorities.
The storm resulted in 52 fatalities.
90 per cent of all homes were destroyed on Ibo island.
Damage caused as a result of the cyclone is believed to lie in excess of $100 million (£80 million)
The EU and the UN together provided around $14.7 million in emergency aid to Mozambique and Comoros.
Some natural disasters — like tropical cyclones Idai and Kenneth, or the on-going drought in India — manage to secure headlines all across the globe.
However, so-called ‘lower impact events’ are occurring much more frequently than appreciated, with many going largely unnoticed despite the displacement, distress and death that they nevertheless cause, the UN has warned.
A large proportion of these smaller-scale events would be preventable if infrastructure were build up to meet the challenge, especially in developing regions.
This might include enhanced flood defences, better severe weather warning systems, water stocks in the case of drought and more government oversight of those regions at particular risk from the changing climate.
‘This is not about the future, this is about today,’ the UN secretary-general’s special representative on disaster risk reduction, Mami Mizutori, told the Guardian.
‘People need to talk more about adaptation and resilience.’
The problem is not just a developing world issue, Mrs Mizutori warned, with the world’s more wealthy countries also facing infrastructure and risk-mitigation challenges — as Europe’s recent heatwaves and forest fires in the US have shown.
It is estimated that climate-related disasters presently cost around $520 billion (£415 billion) each year.
The cost of building infrastructure that is designed to be resistant to the effects of climate change would only increase this figure by three per cent — or a total of $2.7 trillion (£2.2 trillion) over the next 20 years.
With regards to infrastructure spending, ‘this is not a lot of money, but investors have not been doing enough,’ Mrs Mizutori said.
‘Resilience needs to become a commodity that people will pay for.’
A move in this direction would require the creation of universal standards for newly-built infrastructure to ensure they are suitably more resilient against the effects of droughts, floods, storms and other forms of extreme weather.
The problem is not just a developing world issue, Mrs Mizutori warned, with the world’s more wealthy countries also facing infrastructure and risk-mitigation challenges — as Europe’s recent heatwaves and forest fires in the US have shown
Any such regulations would need to apply across the board — and cover everything from housing and industrial facilities to transport networks, power grids and water supply networks.
Enforcement would require cooperation across the different governing bodies responsible for infrastructure, public safety and emissions reductions.
To date, efforts to address the climate crisis have largely been concentrated on reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses, rather than adapting to the new climate conditions that we are facing.
The rationale behind this focus has been the fear from scientists and activists that promoting adaption might encourage people to conclude that emissions reductions were not actually necessary if we could adapt society to the changing climate.
Alongside this, adaption measures also face the challenge of being harder to quantify, unlike greenhouse gas reductions which can be clearly tracked.
‘We talk about a climate emergency and a climate crisis, but if we cannot confront this, we will not survive,’ Mrs Mizutori said.
‘We need to look at the risks of not investing in resilience.’
UN disaster expert Mami Mizutori told the Guardian that more focus needs to be placed on investments into resilient infrastructure, alongside emission cuts. Pictured, the on-going heatwave in India has caused temperatures to exceed 122°F in northern regions
For Mrs Mizutori, an emphasis should be placed on finding more ‘nature-based solutions’ to the impacts of climate change.
These might include, for example, using forests, mangrove swamps and wetlands to form natural barriers to help contain flooding.
Another vital area for focus lies in the challenge of protecting populations who live not in planned cities but informal settlements, or slums.
These are inherently more vulnerable to disasters, house higher-risk demographics like the displaced and the poor, and typically lack access to basic amenities.
‘We need to take a more holistic view of the risks,’ Mrs Mizutori concluded.
WHAT SHOULD THE EU BE DOING TO PROTECT PEOPLE FROM CLIMATE CHANGE?
In 2013, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) published a report which looked at the frequency of extreme weather events.
Since then, there has been a continued rise in how common these events occur.
In order to cope when such adverse weather conditions strike, they made recommendations as to how the EU can better protect its citizens from climate change.
The report claimed that in order to best deal with the issues, it is necessary to understand them first.
To understand how global warming will affect the extremes of weather, it is necessary to study and model them.
2. Heat waves
Across the European continent, heatwaves can vary massively and have vastly different impacts.
Understanding the nuances of these phenomena is key to weathering the storm.
3. Flood defence and early warning
Good practice in flood preparedness and for flood defence across Europe should be shared, including information about different responses to flood preparedness and flood warnings.
The report stated that the agriculture sector as a whole needed to improve.
Vulnerability to extreme weather and possible measures to increase resilience should be produced.
5. Strengthen the knowledge of climate change
The research found that it was crucial that we viewed climate change adaptation as a continuous process.
In order to do this sustained observations, analysis and climate modelling about the Earth are integral parts of a robust and flexible climate-change adaptation strategy.
It claims knowledge dissemination, innovation and building international relationships is key.
6. Changes in policies
Before adaptation can be achieved, there are several barriers which include those that are physical, technical, psychological, financial, institutional and knowledge-based.