Floods, storms, heatwaves and droughts cost the global economy between $250bn ($165bn) and $300bn each year, new research has estimated. The report, released by the United Nations on 23 November, also noted that 90% of major global disasters were caused by weather-related events.
The report – The Human Cost of Weather Related Disasters– was published by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED). It aimed to highlight the impact that climate change has had on the world since the first Climate Change Conference (COP) in 1995. It revealed that 606,000 lives were lost due to weather-related incidents over the past 20 years, with 4.1 billion people being injured, displaced or left in need of emergency assistance.
"Weather and climate are major drivers of disaster risk and this report demonstrates that the world is paying a high price in lives cost," said Margareta Wahlstrom, the head of UNISDR. "Economic losses are a major development challenge for many least developed countries battling climate change and poverty."
The research revealed that the top five countries hit by the highest number of climate-related disasters were the United States (472), China (441), India (288), Philippines (274) and Indonesia (163). Asia is said to record the largest effects of climate disasters, with 332,000 deaths and 3.7bn people affected.
The total number of weather-related disasters is also noted to be on the rise, with an increase of 14% recorded since 1995. Floods are believed to have been the most frequent threat between 1995 and 2005, accounting for 47% of all weather-related disasters; however, storms were the deadliest threat, taking 242,000 lives in the same time period.
The research was revealed days before the UN's climate summit is scheduled to begin in Paris on 30 November. More than 190 countries are expected to come together for a week to debate how to tackle global warming. This year world leaders will aim to achieve a legally-binding universal agreement on climate change.
"In the long term, an agreement in Paris at COP21 on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be a significant contribution to reducing damage and loss from disasters which are partly driven by a warming globe and rising sea levels," Wahlstrom said.
However, Wahlstrom noted that in the short term there was a need to reduce disaster risk by ensuring people were risk-informed and that they did not increase the exposure of people to natural hazards on flood plains, low-lying coastlines, or other locations considered unsuitable for human settlement.