A UN-ESCAP analysis projects potential loss of $953 billion to $1 trillion in the Asia and Pacific region from disasters caused by the incremental warming of the planet by 1.5-2℃ above the pre-industrial era. The losses will be 3-3.5 per cent of the regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and the population at risk could rise from 85 per cent to 87 per cent. 

Warmest on record 

Year 2023, the warmest on record, saw Asia-Pacific witness 145 natural hazard events leading to 54,000 deaths, while over 47 million people were affected and economic loss crossed $45 billion, the analysis said. “The latest Copernicus Climate Change Service highlighted February 2023 to January 2024 wasthe first time that we experienced 12 consecutive months of temperatures 1.5℃ hotter than the pre-industrial era,” says Sanjay Srivastava, Chief, Disaster Risk Reduction, UN-ESCAP.

Strong 2023 El Niño

A strong El Niño ruled the Equatorial East Pacific during 2023. It typically contributes to a steep rise in global temperatures, fuelling more heat on land, atmosphere and ocean, leading to amplification of complex disaster risks, Srivastava wrote to businessline. An increasing trend of heatwaves and cyclones, too, was clearly visible. Across the two projected warming scenarios, it is likely that East and North-East Asia will experience the highest economic losses in terms of absolute value, whereas the Pacific small island developing states will face losses of up to 8 per cent of their GDP. This is more than double the percentage of average annual loss in the rest of the region, Srivastava pointed out.

Plethora of disasters

The 1.5℃ warming has already led to widespread heatwaves, droughts, floods, stronger cyclones and a plethora of slow-onset disasters including glacier melting, coral breaching, land degradation, and water scarcity. While temperatures may fall somewhat at the end of El Niño, the climate emergency is becoming critical. Year 2023 persevered through record-breaking heatwaves, which affected many Asian countries. A related study by the World Weather Attribution found that heatwaves were made at least 30 times more likely in India and Bangladesh due to climate change.

Cyclones supercharged

Excessive heat in the oceans and atmosphere has been supercharging the cyclones. Recent years have seen their rapid intensification, curvature changes, and complex tracks in the North Indian and South-West Pacific Ocean basins. Major cyclones Mocha and Biparjoy; typhoon Doksuri; and tropical storm Jasper exemplify these trends. Michaung flooded Chennai city in India two days before the landfall. Typhoon Doksuri made a landfall in Jinjiang, China, and caused Beijing’s worst flooding in over 50 years. The 2023 monsoon set off elevated flooding and landslides/mudslides throughout South-East, South, and South-West Asia. The monsoon more often deviates from its normal onset and spreadsacross the season due to complex interactions with the atmosphere, regional oceans and seas, and landmasses.

G20 Working Group

The year also saw collective resilience efforts reach important milestones, the ESCAP analysis said. A political declaration on the mid-term review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-30 was an effort to integrate risk reduction into decision-making and investment. The G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Delegation witnessed the launch of a Working Group on Disaster Risk Reduction and progress on Early Warning and Early Action, disaster and climate resilience of infrastructure systems, and mutual learning of recovery .The Loss and Damage Fund set up at COP28 with contributions totalling $700 million aims to enable grants-based support and balance fiscal burden and climate vulnerability. The Santiago Network for loss and damage supports developing countries in averting, minimising, and addressing loss and damage from climate change. The UN Early Warnings for All Executive Action Plan 2023-2027 (EW4All) and early warning systems for Asia-Pacific are other major initiatives in this direction.