A new report from the Royal Society in the UK uncovers the exposure of human populations to extreme weather, which the organization says is going to increase as changes in global climate and population size, location and age endure. Scientists from the report call for governmental action around the world to make human populations more “resilient” to extreme weather.
The Royal Society have published the report today, which contains maps that demonstrate the impact of worldwide climate and demographic changes on exposure of people to extreme weather.
“We are not resilient to the extremes of weather that we experience now, and many people are already extremely vulnerable,” says Prof. Georgina Mace, chair of the working group for the report.
“If we continue on our current trajectory, the problem is likely to get much worse as our climate and population change. By acting now, we can reduce the serious risks to our children and grandchildren,” she adds.
The researchers emphasize that in 2015, important agreements regarding disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change will be made, and these agreements will better address the impacts of extreme weather if they are linked with each other.
“National governments have a responsibility to do everything in their ability to protect their people from the devastation caused by extreme weather events,” says Prof. Mace.
The report states that from 1980-2004, the cost of events related to extreme weather came to a total of $1.4 trillion worldwide, and only a quarter of this was insured. What is more, people in countries with a low Human Development Index comprise 11% of those exposed to hazards but account for 53% of disaster mortality.
Regarding risks to people from floods, droughts and heatwaves, the report notes that people living in East, West and Central Africa – as well as India and South-East Asia – are particularly vulnerable as increasing population numbers in these areas will be exposed to extreme weather events.
Another group of people at particular risk are those over the age of 65, as they are vulnerable to heatwaves. The researchers say climate change could increase the number of heatwave exposure events they experience by three times by the year 2100.
What is more, the number of over-65s is increasing; by the end of the century, the combination of climate and population changes could lead to more than 10 times the number of annual heatwave exposure events suffered by this part of the population, the researchers say.
Another finding from the report indicates that changes in temperature and humidity could cause significant reductions in the ability to work outside in Africa, Asia, and parts of North, South and Central America. And this could also affect Western countries, as global food production would be impacted as a result.
To defend ourselves against the impacts of flooding, drought and heatwaves, the report authors suggest various options. Dr. Nancy Grimm, a member of the working group for the report from Arizona State University, says:
“We need to make sure that large-scale engineering isn’t making us too complacent. In the developed world, we have been heavily reliant on some key large-scale pieces engineering projects, which have been pushed to their limits during recent events.
By using a combination of engineering and more natural approaches, we can accept occasional small ‘failures’ while limiting the detrimental impact of a large, catastrophic event. We call this a safe-to-fail approach.”
The report’s authors note that the risks associated with extreme weather patterns will increase particularly in densely populated areas of the world. As such, they call for more research to improve understanding of risks and to accurately predict impacts for decision-makers.
“The risks from climate change can be underestimated if no account is taken of people’s exposure and vulnerability: global average climate change metrics fail to highlight that the most extreme changes occur where people live – on land,” they add.
Various maps and other resources from the report can be accessed from the Royal Society.
Medical News Today recently reported on a study from The Lancet that suggested the health of the aging population is at risk if certain interventions are overlooked.