In the wake of alerts that have drawn the urgency of combating the climate crisis, a report published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) this Wednesday (1st) translates into numbers the impact that changes such as global warming have had on the occurrence of extreme events in the last 50 years old.
The United Nations’ climate arm counted more than 11,000 events such as droughts, floods, landslides, storms and fires from 1970 to 2019. But while in the 1970s there were 711 of these phenomena, in the 2000s the number has passed. to 3,536, and the next to 3,165—a fivefold increase.
As a result of them, there is a sum of more than 2 million deaths and an economic loss that exceeds US$ 3.4 trillion (R$ 17.5 trillion). Spreading out the sheer numbers, it’s as if, every day for the past 50 years, 115 people have died and more than $200 million in damage has been caused by natural disasters.
Floods account for the main disasters recorded (44%), followed by tropical storms (35%). Human losses as a result of these events are mostly concentrated in developing countries —according to the UN classification—, where 91% of deaths are found.
The conclusion to be drawn from the data, according to USP physicist Paulo Artaxo, a reference in the climate crisis, is hardly new — warnings about what governments and companies need to do are already given, by entities such as the IPCC (acronym in English for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
“The reading is very clear. We have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as urgently as possible if we don’t want gigantic socioeconomic impacts.”
In regional comparison, the Asian continent has an uncomfortable lead. There were more than 3,400 disasters recorded over the last five decades, which led to almost 1 million deaths. In South America, ahead only of Oceania, there were 867 extreme weather events, with a balance of 58,000 victims.
Brazil, partly because of its territorial extension, is the South American leader. Since 1970, there have been 193 extreme events in the country — an average of four per year. And it is in Brazilian territory that the most expensive disaster in South America was recorded, in economic terms: a drought in the Southeast of the country in 2014 which, according to compiled by the OMM, accumulated losses of more than US$ 5 billion.
Artaxo claims that clear evidence of Brazil’s vulnerability to climate emergencies is accumulating. The historic drought in the Southeast and Midwest in recent months —responsible for an energy crisis—, the rise in sea levels and desertification in the Northeast are some of the examples.
“Brazil has a strategic plan to adapt to climate change that, for the time being, is on paper, and the Brazilian government is not acting to protect the Brazilian population from these enormous risks.” Jair Bolsonaro’s administration has been under international pressure to be more active in this sector, especially in the issue of deforestation, and has been criticized for the president’s anti-environmental speech.
Amid the jumble of rising numbers, there is an inverse comparison: the proportionate number of deaths has fallen, even as extreme events have accelerated. While in the 1970s the figure was 50,000, in the 2010s it was less than 20,000.
Largely attributed to prevention, with improved early warning systems, the improvement was characterized as a “message of hope” by the secretary general of the WMO, Finn Petteri Taalas. At the same time, however, it is cautiously described in the report itself by an additional analysis signed by the WHO (World Health Organization): “Climate change threatens to reverse the progress the global public health community is making against many diseases and to increase the challenges of responding to natural emergencies”.
The caveat also highlights the situation of countries with greater economic and infrastructure difficulties. “Progress has been made in reducing disaster risks, and this has led to reduced mortality. Still, high levels of vulnerability to dangerous events remain.”
The prevention of the impacts of extreme events, according to the WMO, could be observed in hurricane Ida, which has passed through the United States since last weekend and left at least five deaths and more than 1 million people without electricity in the state of Louisiana .
While they are still calculating the losses, local authorities have been speaking about the success of some structures erected after the passage of Hurricane Katrina, 16 years ago, which left 1,800 deaths. Still, the UN projected on Wednesday that Ida is the most expensive climate disaster in history.
The rapid intensification of the winds and rains of the Ida alerted American scientists, who call attention to the worsening of this type of phenomenon with the increase in the temperature of the oceans caused by global warming.