Petteri Talas (WMO Secretary-General) stated last August that the number of extreme weather conditions, such as climate or water events is on the rise and will be more common and severe in many places around the world due to climate change. This statement was made to coincide with the release of the 2020 WMO report, in which he claimed that there has been an increase of 5 times the number of severe weather events over 50 years. Climate change, increased extreme weather, better reporting, and other factors have all contributed to the rise. This last point should be noted. Below you will find a table of all the climate and weather disasters that were compiled in the WMO report.
WMO relies heavily on the disaster information collected by the Emergency Events Database, (EM-DAT), which was established by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in 1988. The EMDAT tracks and reports on natural disasters, from 1900 to today. However, compilers recognize that increased reporting across the globe could have contributed to the growth in number of disasters in the database.
As an example, in 2020 the United Nations published its The Human Cost of Natural DisastersThe report also uses EM-DAT data and examines global disaster trends for 2000 through 2019. The chart below shows the worldwide annual disaster death toll.
The U.N. report, unlike the WMO chart included geophysical disasters such as earthquakes and volcanoes. Six of the 10 most deadly disasters of the last 20 years occurred in earthquakes. This was 657,000 of the 943,000 victims (70%)
What does the trend in climate and weather look like if geophysical data are not included in the EMDAT database? Roger Pielke Jr., a University of Colorado political scientist has completed this task and will update it until 2021.
Pielke, who runs his Honest Broker Substack, notes that “the data show the number of climate and weather disasters worldwide declined by approximately 10% between 2000 and 2021 which is very positive news and totally contrary to common wisdom.” Although the period from 2000 to 2021 is considered most reliable in terms of data reliability, it is clear that coverage has improved even after 2000. This means that the reported 10% drop in coverage is probably an underestimation. Note that even the WMO report shows a decline between the 2000–2009 and 2010–2019 periods.
Pielke properly cautions, “Of course, don’t use data on disasters to say anything about changes in weather or climate — data on specific weather and climate variables are always more appropriate for tracking changes in climate.” Trends in global temperatures and precipitation are data. The reason that the world is richer and more populous has led to more destruction of infrastructure and houses due to severe weather events. While there are alarmist claims about weather-related disasters increasing in severity, the mere fact that they occur cannot prove man-made climate changes.