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Climate change costs a lot

A woman caught in flooding in Hanoi. The Vietnamese capital has been inundated with some 20 inches of rain over a three-day period leaving 19 dead. In northern Vietnam, at least 44 people are dead and 100,000 homes underwater.
(Tung X. Ngo/IRIN)

In the past 18 years 11,000 extreme events have claimed the lives of 600,000 people and cost US$1.7 trillion across the globe, said the Climate Risk Index 2010, released in Copenhagen at the UN climate change conference.

The index, produced by Germanwatch, a North-South watchdog initiative, called for more money in the next three years to help developing countries adapt to the unfolding impact of climate change, and underlined the challenge facing humanitarian aid agencies to raise funds for rendering assistance.

The study looked at the impact of extreme weather events from 1990 to 2008, based on data from Munich Re, one of the world's biggest insurance companies. 1990 was the base year used in the Kyoto Protocol to set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for developed countries, a commitment made in 1997.

Sönke Kreft, climate policy advisor at Germanwatch, told IRIN: "Developing countries top the list of 10 countries identified as the most vulnerable to climate risks – the findings underline the need to provide funds for near-term finance in the next three years - 2010 to 2012 - [when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires]."

Small, medium-sized and large climate events causing damage, injury or loss of life have all been occurring more frequently, but Bangladesh, Myanmar and Vietnam are among the nations most vulnerable to extreme climate events, costing them millions of dollars every year, according to the index.

Climate-related disasters cost Bangladesh - identified as the most vulnerable country - more than US$2 billion a year in the past 18 years, said the study, which quantified economic losses in millions US$ of purchasing power parity (PPP). The World Bank estimated that Cyclone Sidr and floods in 2007 had probably cost in Bangladesh more than $3 billion.

The index also used data from three other indicators: total number of deaths, deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, and loss per unit of gross domestic product. Kreft said the index study had factored in the impact of higher temperatures as a result of global warming.

"There is a certain likeliness that those countries severely affected today from extreme weather events are also particularly at risk from further intensification in this type of climate risks," wrote Sven Harmeling of Germanwatch, author of the index study.

List of 10 countries most affected by climate risk (from 1990 to 2008)
1 Bangladesh
2 Myanmar
3 Honduras
4 Vietnam
5 Nicaragua
6 Haiti
7 India
8 Dominican Republic
9 Philippines
10 China
Source: Climate Risk Index 2010

The 10 countries most affected by extreme climate events fall into two groups: those that rank high because of exceptional catastrophes, such as Myanmar; and countries continuously hit by extreme events, such as Bangladesh and the Philippines.

The losses resulting from climate events could be much higher. The study did not factor in "affected people", because the impact of slow-onset disasters, such as droughts which affected predominantly African countries, could not be verified. "That is the weakness in our study," Kreft commented. 

In 2001 the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) set up the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) to help the world's poorest 49 countries address their "urgent and immediate" adaptation needs, but it has managed to raise only about $200 million of the almost $2 billion required to fund climate change adaptation projects in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Kreft said there was an urgent need for developed countries not only to fill the funding gaps in the LDCF, but to begin pumping money into the Adaptation Fund, set up under the UNFCCC in 2008, which will start dispensing aid from 2010.

When Bangladesh approached the LDCF for money, "We were told we could not get more than $5 million in total," Ainun Nishat, a member of the Bangladesh delegation to the Copenhagen conference, told IRIN.

Uday Sharma, environment secretary in the Nepalese government and a member of the LDC group on adaptation, said 75 percent of all money pledged to adaptation should go to the poorest countries, which were being overlooked.

To ensure the equitable distribution of funds, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the financial mechanism of the UNFCCC, had proposed the use of a vulnerability index, which is also being discussed at the climate talks.

Saleemul Huq, head of the climate change group at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, said the climate risk index findings underlined the urgency of developing a financial mechanism framework that would help distribute funds fairly.

Besides providing funds to help countries adapt, "One key element should be an internationally financed insurance mechanism for those countries at risk, financed primarily by those who have caused climate change," said Christopher Bals, political director of Germanwatch. The need for climate insurance features in the Copenhagen negotiations.

The climate index feeds into the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative (MCII), set up in 2005 by Germanwatch, the UN University Institute for Environment and Human Security Section, the Munich Re Foundation, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the European Climate Forum, the Tyndall Centre, which researches sustainable responses to climate change, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the World Bank, and independent experts.

At the previous UN climate change talks in Poznan, Poland, the MCII proposed a comprehensive climate insurance architecture that would not only provide insurance but also support poor countries in disaster prevention by reducing risk.



IRIN's climate change coverage has made it into the finals of the Earth Journalism Awards, being held at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen. The polls are still open for the Global Public Award so take a minute to vote for us here: http://awards.earthjournalism.org/finalist/climate-change-focus-on-eritrea-eritrea

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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