As if COVID-19 were not enough to worry about, the global climate crisis is driving a “staggering rise” in natural disasters, the United Nations detailed last week in a new report, “The Human Cost of Disasters.” According to the U.N.’s Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, known as UNDRR, the number of natural disasters was 75 percent higher between 2000 and 2019 than in the previous 20 years. Unless humanity takes prompt, dramatic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet risks becoming “an uninhabitable hell for millions of people,” the report’s authors warn. Unfortunately, the world is not doing nearly enough either to mitigate climate change or prepare for its associated calamities.
Natural disasters are a fact of life on Earth and an ineluctable feature of the human condition. Their frequency is increasing, however—and we are to blame. “The Human Cost of Disasters” documents some 7,348 over the past two decades, up sharply from the 4,212 between 1980 and 1999. Since 2000, natural disasters have affected more than 4 billion people—roughly 200 million per year—claiming 1.23 million lives and causing nearly $3 trillion in economic losses. While better reporting may partly explain these rising numbers, the main culprit is global warming, as climate-related disasters have surged by 82 percent in the past two decades.