We need better weather warnings

More than 11,000 disasters have been attributed to weather, climate and water-related hazards over the past half century, involving two million deaths, yet one in three people around the world are still not adequately covered by early warning systems.

That is one of the key findings of the 2020 State of Climate Services multi-agency report released by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

While the average number of deaths recorded for each disaster has fallen by a third, the number of recorded disasters has increased five times and the economic losses by a factor of seven. Total losses for the period are estimated at US$3.6 trillion.

In 2018, around 108 million people required help from the humanitarian system as a result of storms, floods, droughts and wildfires. By 2030, it is estimated that this number could increase by almost 50% at a cost of around $20 billion a year, the report says.

“While COVID-19 generated a large international health and economic crisis from which it will take years to recover, it is crucial to remember that climate change will continue to pose an on-going and increasing threat to human lives, ecosystems, economies and societies for centuries to come,” says WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

The report, produced by 16 international agencies and financing institutions, stresses the need to switch to impact-based forecasting – an evolution from “what the weather will be” to “what the weather will do” – so people and businesses can act early based on warnings.

It says nearly 90% of least developed countries (LDC) and small island developing states (SIDS) have identified early warning systems as a top priority, but many lack the necessary capacity and financial investment is not always available where it is most needed.

Since 1970, SIDS have lost $153 billion due to weather, climate and water-related hazards. The average GDP for SIDS is $ 13.7 billion. 

All weather and climate services rely on data from systematic observations. However, observing networks are often inadequate, particularly across Africa where, in 2019, just 26% of stations met WMO reporting requirements.

The good news, the report says, is that climate finance has reached record levels, crossing the $500 billion mark for the first time in 2017-18. However, adaptation finance and financing for risk information and early warning systems are only a fraction of that.

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