Droughts. Floods. Landslides. At the just-concluded climate change conference in Doha, Qatar, scientists and climate advocates once again underscored the need for governments to address climate change with urgency.
The world is getting warmer. And this poses a threat not only to poor countries, but also to rich nations such as the United States, which ranked seventh among countries worst hit by extreme weather events in 2011, according to the Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2013. This is the same year Hurricane Irene battered parts of the country, resulting in at least 56 deaths and more than $15 billion in damage.
But this figure pales in comparison with the damage Thailand suffered that same year: Tropical Storm Nock-ten caused an estimated $43 billion in damage and inundated parts of the country for more than a month.
The United States was the only high-income country in the top 10, climbing dramatically from 30th place in 2010. Thailand, which topped the list, and Brazil, which ranked sixth, are upper-middle-income countries. Pakistan, El Salvador, the Philippines, Laos, Guatemala and Sri Lanka are all lower-middle-income countries. Cambodia is the only low-income country.
The inclusion of the United States in the list should have made the case as to why the Western power needs to take the threat of climate change more seriously. Extreme weather events have cost the lives of 844 people in the United States in 2011; U.S. losses in purchasing power parity reached $74.8 billion in the same year, second only to Thailand’s $75.4 billion.
But the Western power did not deliver much at the U.N. climate change conference, which ended Dec. 8. Many had hoped the United States would step up at the conference following Hurricane Sandy, which is one of the costliest climate-related disasters to date, second only to Hurricane Katrina. But the country did not commit to any new funding for the 2013-2015 period, and only reiterated its pledge to contribute to the $100 billion a year funding for developing countries’ climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. It also did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
Developing countries do have a reason to be optimistic about next year’s conference in Warsaw, Poland. In Doha, a draft decision requests developed countries to provide “finance, technology and capacity-building” to developing countries, and establishes an international mechanism that will address loss and damage due to the impact of climate change on developing countries.
Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.