Climate Change

Extreme continent: New WMO report paints alarming picture of climate emergency in Asia

The effects of climate events on Asia in 2022 were much more pronounced, with an increase in the number of fatalities, people affected and economic damage

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Friday 28 July 2023
Asia is the world’s most disaster-prone region according to a new WMO report. Illustration by iStock__

Asia is the world’s most disaster-prone region and more than 50 million people were directly affected due to 81 weather-, climate- and water-related disasters in Asia during 2022, according to a new report released by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on July 27, 2023.

The number of reported disaster events in the region decreased in comparison to 2021, when Asia was affected by more than 100 natural hazards. But the effects of such events in 2022 were much more pronounced, with an increase in the number of fatalities, people affected and economic damage.

Some 5,879 Asians died due to natural disasters in 2022. This is almost 55 per cent more than the human deaths recorded in 2021 across the region. A whopping 52 million people on the continent were affected due to disasters in 2022. This too is an increase from the 48.3 million affected in 2021.  

The economic cost of the damage due to these events has been more than $ 36 billion, according to the report titled State of climate in Asia, 2022. Pakistan accounted for 42 per cent of this, with economic losses of at least $15 billion.

Source: Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (ESCAP) 

Floods and droughts

The economic losses associated with floods in 2022 exceeded the average over the past 20 years (2002-2021). This was primarily due to the significant economic losses from floods in Pakistan (over $15 billion), China (over $5 billion) and India (over $4.2 billion)

A recent World Weather Attribution study showed that climate change likely increased extreme monsoon rainfall and flooding in Pakistan.

The economic losses associated with drought in 2022 ($7.6 billion), which mainly occurred in China, exceeded by nearly 200 per cent, the 20-year average from 2002 to 2021 ($ 2.6 billion). If compared with 2021, the economic cost of drought had more than doubled.

WMO said the expected increase in the frequency and severity of extreme events over much of Asia will impact agriculture.

According to the report, more than 25 per cent of all loss and damage from climate-related disasters such as floods, droughts and tropical storms is associated with the agriculture sector. So, the sector is central to all climate adaptation planning, the report stated.

“Early warnings are one of the most effective ways of reducing damage from disasters. But there are still significant gaps to be addressed to strengthen these systems in order to reduce the adverse impacts of hydrometeorological hazards in the region,” said Petteri Taalas, secretary-general, WMO in the foreword of the report.

Continent of extremes

The analysis also revealed some alarming trends about global melting ice, glaciers and sea level rise. These trends threaten more socio-economic disruption in the future, the document warned.

The report, one of a series of WMO regional State of the Climate reports, was released during a meeting of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (ESCAP) Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction.

Asia, the continent with the largest land mass extending to the Arctic, is warming faster than the global average. The warming trend in Asia in 1991-2022 was almost double the warming trend in the 1961-1990 period

In 2022, the estimated mean temperature over Asia was 0.73°C [0.63-0.78] above the 1991-2020 average, making it either the second- or third-warmest year on record, the report said.

While warming trends of the continent have exceeded the global mean, the temperature rise is not happening equally across the continent, it stated.

The ocean surface in the region has been warming since 1982. In the northwestern Arabian Sea, the Philippine Sea and the seas east of Japan, the warming rates exceed 0.5°C per decade, roughly three times faster than the global average.

Both South Asian countries — India and Pakistan — had above-normal rainfall in 2022. Pakistan received 60 per cent of its normal monsoon rain within just three weeks of the start of the monsoon season last June.

The devastating floods associated with extreme precipitation in July and August 2022 had affected more than 33 million people in Pakistan and almost eight million people were displaced.

The report has linked this to the continuing La Nina from 2020 through 2022, which had induced significant influence on precipitation in parts of Asia.

Over the past 40 years, four glaciers with long-term observations in the High Mountain Asia region experienced mass loss, with an accelerating trend in the 21st century. From 2021-2022, Urumqi Glacier No. 1 in the eastern Tien Shan mountain range recorded its second-most negative mass balance (‑1.25 m w.e.) since measurements began in 1959.

In many areas surrounding Asia, the sea surface is warming at rates of more than 0.5°C per decade, approximately 3x faster than the global warming rate. The Barents Sea, a part of the Arctic Ocean, is identified as a climate change hotspot, with regional warming five-seven times the global warming average.

As the ocean warms and expands and glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets melt, sea levels rise. From 2013-2022, the global average sea level rose at rate of 4.6 mm per year. The rates of sea level rise across most of Asia are higher than the global mean rate over 1993-2022 (3.4 ± 0.3 mm per year).

The north-east Indian Ocean and western tropical Pacific region have even higher rates, above 4 mm per year according to the report.

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