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Disasters around the world are interconnected
by Institute for Environment and Human Security
A new report, Interconnected Disaster Risks 2020/2021, has been released by United Nations University – Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS). The report analyses 10 different disasters from 2020/2021 and finds that even though they occurred in vastly different locations and do not initially appear to have much in common, they are interconnected with each other.
As shown by the key findings of the recent IPCC 6th Assessment Report, extreme events, such as droughts, fires and floods, are increasingly compounding each other, likely as a consequence of human influence.
Viewed through a lens of interconnectivity, this new report shows in detail how not only climate disasters, but human-made disasters in general build on the impacts of the past and pave the way for future disasters.
The frequency of severe weather events, epidemics and human-made disasters is increasing globally, and it is becoming ever more challenging to keep pace with the corresponding changes and impacts.
In 2020/2021, the world witnessed a number of record-breaking disasters: the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, a cold wave crippled the state of Texas, wildfires destroyed almost 5 million acres of Amazon rainforest, and Viet Nam experienced 9 heavy storms in the span of only 7 weeks.
By analysing past events through the lens of interconnectivity, both the disasters that are happening right now and those that will happen in the future can be better understood.
“When people see disasters in the news, they often seem far away,” said UNU-EHS Senior Scientist Dr. Zita Sebesvari, a lead author of the report. “But even disasters that occur thousands of kilometres apart are often related to one another and can have consequences for people living in distant places.”
An example of this is the recent heatwave in the Arctic and cold wave in Texas. In 2020, the Arctic experienced the second-highest air temperatures and second-lowest amount of sea ice cover on record. The increasing temperature in the Arctic destabilizes the polar vortex, a spinning mass of cold air above the North Pole, allowing colder air to move southward into North America.
Thus, changes in Arctic temperature influence locations far away from the Arctic and likely also contributed to the below-freezing temperatures in Texas, a state that is used to year-round warm weather. Around 4 million people were without electricity as the power grid froze up, and 210 people died.
Disasters also often occur simultaneously and compound each other, as happened with the COVID-19 pandemic and Cyclone Amphan in the border region of India and Bangladesh.
In an area where almost 50 per cent of the population is living under the poverty line, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns left many people without income options, including migrant workers who were forced to return to their home areas and were housed in cyclone shelters while under quarantine.
When the region was then hit by Cyclone Amphan, many people, concerned over social distancing, hygiene and privacy, avoided evacuating to shelters and weathered out the storm in unsecure locations.
The “super” cyclone in turn worsened the conditions for pandemic response in its aftermath, as health centres were destroyed and COVID-19 cases spiked in some areas. Amphan itself caused over 100 fatalities, damages in excess of 13 billion USD and displaced 4.9 million people.
Oftentimes, disasters stem from the same root causes, which means that they are interconnected by the same underlying factors that create the conditions for these seemingly unrelated disasters to occur.
The new report Interconnected Disaster Risks identifies three root causes that affected most of the events in the analysis: human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, insufficient disaster risk management and undervaluing environmental costs and benefits in decision-making.
Human-induced greenhouse gas emissions were one of the reasons why Texas experienced the freezing temperatures, but they also contribute to the formation of super cyclones such as Amphan, for example – an entirely different disaster in an entirely different part of the world.
Insufficient disaster risk management was one of the reasons why Texas experienced such high losses of life and excessive infrastructure damages during the cold wave, and the same also contributed to the high losses caused by the Central Viet Nam floods.
But disasters are not only connected to each other; they are also connected to us as individuals.
The record rate of deforestation and wildfires in the Amazon is in part due to the high global demand for meat: farmland is needed to grow soy, which is used as animal fodder for poultry. This means that some of the root causes of disasters are in fact influenced by the actions of people far away from where the event itself occurs.
“What we can learn from this report is that disasters we see happening around the world are much more interconnected than we may realize, and they are also connected to individual behavior. Our actions have consequences, for all of us,” said fellow lead author Dr. Jack O’Connor. “But the good news is that if the problems are connected, so are the solutions.”
The report showcases solutions at both the societal and individual level and explains how one action, such as cutting our greenhouse gas emissions, can affect many different types of disasters: it can prevent a further increase in the frequency and severity of hazards and protect biodiversity and ecosystems.
The ten disasters covered in the report are:
Amazon wildfires – Wildfires fueled by global appetite; Arctic heatwave – Spiraling into a climate disaster; Beirut explosion – When the global community abandons a ship; Central Viet Nam floods – When being prepared is no longer enough; Chinese Paddlefish extinction – The fish that survived the dinosaur extinction but not humankind.
COVID-19 pandemic – How a pandemic is showing us the value of biodiversity; Cyclone Amphan – When a cyclone and a pandemic combine; Desert locust outbreak – How manageable risks spin out of control; Great Barrier Reef bleaching – Losing more than a natural wonder; Texas cold wave – A preventable catastrophe?
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The climate is changing, and the impacts are already too costly for people and the planet
by WMO, NASA, IFRC, agencies
IFRC warns human-caused climate change made record-breaking heatwave 150 times more likely, putting lives at risk
Recent rocketing temperatures are having a severe impact on millions of people and putting lives at risk, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has warned.
Last week’s record-breaking heatwave in parts of the US and Canada, would have been virtually impossible without the influence of human-caused climate change. This is according to a rapid attribution analysis by an international team of leading climate scientists and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. The analysis found that climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, made the heatwave at least 150 times more likely to happen.
IFRC President Francesco Rocca said: “Right now, we are witnessing heat records topple as temperatures rise, with terrifying consequences for millions of people around the world.
“We are responding on the ground, and thanks to our investment in anticipatory action, we are able to better prepare for these crises.”
From wildfires and drought to heat exhaustion and serious heat-related health risks, communities across the globe are struggling to cope with the increased temperatures and frequency of heatwaves.
“The Red Cross and Red Crescent network cannot combat the devastating impact of the climate crisis alone,” added Rocca. “There must be a concerted global effort to deal with the climate emergency, which represents the biggest threat to the future of the planet and its people.”
National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are working with those hit hardest by the current heatwaves and those who are most at risk from soaring temperatures – including older people, homeless people, people with COVID-19 and underlying health conditions, those living in isolated areas, and refugees and migrants.
The Head of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, Maarten van Aalst, said: “Heatwaves topped the global charts of deadliest disasters in both 2019 and 2020. Here we have another terrible example – sadly no longer a surprise but part of a very worrying global trend. Many of these deaths can be prevented by adaptation to the hotter heatwaves that we are confronting in the Americas and around the world.”
In the US, American Red Cross teams are working in cooling centres and shelters to support people escaping the dangerous heatwaves, while the Canadian Red Cross is on hand to work with emergency services to respond to deadly wildfires.
In Europe, Red Cross volunteers are providing health and social care support to older and vulnerable people put in danger by the scorching temperatures.
In Pakistan this year, some of the hottest temperatures on record have scorched areas of Sindh province and Pakistan Red Crescent health teams have been helping people, including bike riders and others exposed to extreme heat as they are compelled to work outside earning daily wages.
In Afghanistan, the Afghan Red Crescent and the IFRC are working together to provide urgent cash and food assistance for more than 210,000 people, as one of the worst droughts in decades threatens the food and water supplies.
In the Middle East, Red Crescent Societies, including those in Iran, Iraq and Syria, have been responding to the drought affecting the lives of millions of people. In Saudi Arabia, the Red Crescent has organized a nationwide campaign on mitigating the health hazards caused by the temperatures climbing up to 50C.
As the number of climate-related emergencies increase globally each year, the IFRC and its National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are increasing their support to the most vulnerable communities around the world.
http://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/press-release/ifrc-warns-human-caused-climate-change-made-record-breaking-heatwave-150-times-more-likely-putting-lives-at-risk/ http://www.climatecentre.org/ http://public.wmo.int/en/media/news/summer-of-extremes-floods-heat-and-fire http://www.ipcc.ch/reports/
Extreme weather combined with COVID-19 in a double blow for millions of people in 2020. However, the pandemic-related economic slowdown failed to put a brake on climate change drivers and accelerating impacts, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and an extensive network of partners.
The report on the State of the Global Climate 2020 documents indicators of the climate system, including greenhouse gas concentrations, increasing land and ocean temperatures, sea level rise, melting ice and glacier retreat and extreme weather.
It also highlights impacts on socio-economic development, migration and displacement, food security and land and marine ecosystems.
2020 was one of the three warmest years on record, despite a cooling La Niña event. The global average temperature was about 1.2° Celsius above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) level.
The six years since 2015 have been the warmest on record. 2011-2020 was the warmest decade on record.
“We now have 28 more years of data that show significant temperature increases over land and sea as well as other changes like sea level rise, melting of sea ice and glaciers and changes in precipitation patterns. This underscores the robustness of climate science based on the physical laws governing the behaviour of the climate system,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.
“All key climate indicators and associated impact information provided in this report highlight relentless, continuing climate change, an increasing occurrence and intensification of extreme events, and severe losses and damage, affecting people, societies and economies. The negative trend in climate will continue for the coming decades independent of our success in mitigation.
“This report shows yet again that we have no time to waste. The climate is changing, and the impacts are already too costly for people and the planet. This must be the year for action.
Countries need to commit to net zero emissions by 2050. They need to submit, well ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, ambitious national climate plans that will collectively cut global emissions by 45 per cent compared to 2010 levels by 2030.
And they need to act now to protect people against the disastrous effects of climate change,” said the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
In 2020, COVID-19 added a new and unwelcome dimension to weather, climate and water-related hazards, with wide-ranging combined impacts on human health and well-being.
Mobility restrictions, economic downturns and disruptions to the agricultural sector exacerbated the effects of extreme weather and climate events along the entire food supply chain, elevating levels of food insecurity and slowing the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
The report illustrates how climate change poses a risk to the achievement of many of the Sustainable Development Goals, through a cascading chain of interrelated events. These contribute to reinforcing or worsening existing inequalities.
In addition, there is the potential for feedback loops which threaten to perpetuate the vicious cycle of climate change.
http://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/climate-change-indicators-and-impacts-worsened-2020 http://unocha.exposure.co/humans-in-the-climate-crisis http://odi.org/en/events/the-climate-crisis-and-humanitarian-need-responding-for-the-worlds-most-vulnerable-communities/
All five datasets surveyed by WMO concur that 2011-2020 was the warmest decade on record. The warmest six years have all been since 2015, with 2016, 2019 and 2020 being the top three.
“The confirmation by the World Meteorological Organization that 2020 was one of the warmest years on record is yet another stark reminder of the relentless pace of climate change, which is destroying lives and livelihoods across our planet. Today, we are at 1.2 degrees of warming and already witnessing unprecedented weather extremes in every region and on every continent. We are headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius this century. Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top priority for everyone, everywhere," said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
“The exceptional heat of 2020 is despite a La Niña event, which has a temporary cooling effect,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas. “It is remarkable that temperatures in 2020 were virtually on a par with 2016, when we saw one of the strongest El Niño warming events on record. This is a clear indication that the global signal from human-induced climate change is now as powerful as the force of nature,” said Prof. Taalas.
“The temperature ranking of individual years represent only a snapshot of a much longer-term trend. Since the 1980s each decade has been warmer than the previous one. Heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere remain at record levels and the long lifetime of carbon dioxide, the most important gas, commits the planet to future warming,” said Prof. Taalas.
http://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/2020-was-one-of-three-warmest-years-record http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/2020-tied-for-warmest-year-on-record-nasa-analysis-shows http://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2021/the-climate-events-of-2020-show-how-excess-heat-is-expressed-on-earth http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/202013 http://insideclimatenews.org/news/08012021/2020-earth-hottest-year-temperatures/ http://www.sei.org/perspectives/paris-agreement-five-years-on-just-transition-away-from-fossil-fuels/ http://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcosc.2020.615419/full http://gcap.global/news/gcap-signs-fff-fightfor1pointfive-promise/
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