The trend in annual damages from global disasters is rising and almost broke $200 billion in 2012, according to World Bank figures released Monday. And three-fourths of the losses are due to extreme weather.
The report, which makes the case for greater global investment in climate resiliency and disaster risk management, found that worldwide losses from such events have been steadily rising since at least 1980. “Over the last 30 years, the world has lost more than 2.5 million people and almost $4 trillion to natural disasters,” said Rachel Kyte, World Bank Vice-President for Sustainable Development, citing work from the global reinsurance giant Munich Re. “And three quarters of those losses are a result of extreme weather.”
The damage can vary significantly from year to year. The specific losses for 2012 were just over $150 billion, for example. And there was a record spike to over $400 billion in global losses in 2011 — a year, according to work from the Center for American Progress, that included just over $160 billion in damages from extreme weather in the U.S. alone.
But when it extracted the overall trend line from the variations, the World Bank found a steadily accelerating rise from approximately $50 billion in 1980 to just under $200 billion last year:
Global warming driven by the burning of fossil fuels is a major culprit here: the latest United Nations review found that scientists are 95 percent certain that humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions have driven the majority of climate change since the 1950s. That’s the same level of certainty they ascribe to the conclusions that cigarettes are deadly and the universe is 13.8 billion years old.
What global warming does is shift the overall window of possible weather events, so that more of them fall into the range of extreme droughts, wildfires, storms, floods and so forth. It’s like a baseball player on steroids, where their use ups the overall prevalence of unusual hits rather than “causing” any individual home run. “While you cannot connect any single weather event to climate change, scientists have warned that extreme weather events will increase in intensity if climate change is left unchecked,” Kyte continued.
The people most vulnerable to this rising tide of weather disasters are the global poor in areas like South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. They’re the populations least able to prepare for or absorb the effects of extreme weather — particularly in urban areas where climate change threatens to disrupt food supplies — and they’re the least able to recover from “recurrent, low-intensity events” than cumulatively cripple livelihoods, entrench global poverty, and exacerbate global inequality.
The World Bank estimated that 325 million of the global poor could be exposed to weather disasters by 2030. The recent 2014 Climate Change Vulnerability Index also pegged those populations, which are finally on the cusp of attaining real economic development, as facing “extreme risk” from climate change.