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United Nations reports 2 million people were killed from extreme weather over the past half-century

The economic damage of weather- and climate-related disasters continues to rise, even as improvements in early warning have helped reduce the human toll, the U.N. weather agency said Monday.

The World Meteorological Organization, in an updated report, tallied nearly 12,000 extreme weather, climate and water-related events over the past half-century around the globe that have killed more than 2 million people and caused economic damage of $4.3 trillion.

The stark recap from WMO came as it opened its four-yearly congress among member countries, pressing the message that more needs to be done to improve alert systems for extreme weather events by a target date of 2027.

The Geneva-based agency has repeatedly warned about the impact of man-made climate change, saying rising temperatures have increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather — including floods, hurricanes, cyclones, heat waves and drought.

WMO says early warning systems have helped reduce deaths linked to climate and other weather-related catastrophes.

Most of the economic damage between 1970 and 2021 came in the United States — totaling $1.7 trillion — while nine in 10 deaths worldwide took place in developing countries. The economic impact, relative to gross domestic product, has been felt more in developing countries, WMO says.

damage from tornado in TX

Damage is seen after a tornado hit Port Isabel, Texas, on May 13, 2023. The U.N. weather agency reported Monday that thousands of extreme events over the last half-century around the globe have caused an economic damage of $4.3 trillion.  (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the cyclonic storm Mocha that swept across Myanmar and Bangladesh this month exemplified how the “most vulnerable communities unfortunately bear the brunt of weather, climate and water-related hazards.”

“Early warnings save lives,” he said.

The findings were a part of an update to WMO’s Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes, which previously had covered a nearly 50-year period through 2019.

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Europe saw nearly 1,800 disasters that led to 166,492 deaths and $562 billion in economic losses.

Last week, WMO forecast a 66% chance that within the next five years the Earth will face a year that averages 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in the mid-19th century, reaching a key threshold targeted by the Paris climate accord of 2015.

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