Climate change largely to blame for a near doubling of natural disasters since year 2000, says UN

Wildfires burn over vineyards in California - Noah Berger /AP
Wildfires burn over vineyards in California - Noah Berger /AP

Climate change is largely responsible for a doubling in the number of natural disasters since 2000, the United Nations said on Monday, warning that the planet was becoming uninhabitable for millions of people.

Three quarters of a billion more people were impacted by disasters over the past two decades than in the twenty years before, the UN's office for disaster risk reduction said.

Calling humanity "wilfully destructive", it said the data was a wake-up call to governments who have failed to take the threat of climate change seriously or to prepare for a growing number of natural disasters.

"It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction, despite the science and evidence that we are turning our only home into an uninhabitable hell for millions of people," the authors said.

The report found that there were 7,348 major recorded disaster events between 2000 and 2019, compared with 4,212 between 1980 and 1999.

Climate-related disasters explained the bulk of the rise, increasing from 3,656 to 6,681. Floods and storms were the most common events. The incidence of flooding more than doubled, from 1,389 to 3,254.

Mami Mizutori, the UN's representative for disaster risk reduction, said NGOs and emergency services were "fighting an uphill battle against an ever-rising tide of extreme weather events".

A felled palm tree lays after Hurricane Delta made landfall in Holly Beach, Louisiana - Luke Sharrett /Bloomberg
A felled palm tree lays after Hurricane Delta made landfall in Holly Beach, Louisiana - Luke Sharrett /Bloomberg

"The odds are being stacked against us when we fail to act on science and early warnings to invest in prevention, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction," she said.

Asia was the worst-hit continent and China the worst-affected country, followed by the USA. Overall just over four billion people were affected by disasters, a rise from 3.25 billion.

Though mobile phone technology and improved weather forecasting limited the lives lost to natural disasters, with the death toll growing from 1.19 million to 1.23 million, the economic impact grew significantly, with agriculture in particular disrupted.

While they were less common, geophysical disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis were the most deadly, with the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which killed 226,400, recorded as the largest single event by death toll, followed by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

2020 was not included in the data, but has so far seen one of the most active fire and hurricane seasons the USA has ever experienced, as well as significant flooding across Asia.

Climate scientists warn that a warmer climate makes hurricanes and severe storms more likely, as well as promoting the conditions that lead forest fires to start and spread.