Newsletter XVII - JRC study shows that societies worldwide have become more resilient to climate disasters

A recent study by the the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) shows that over the last four decades, societies around the world have increased their capacity to cope with climate disasters (Formetta and Feyen, 2019). The findings indicate that adaptation represents an opportunity to make our societies more resilient and minimize future impacts of climate change in Europe.

 To understand better the capacity of societies worldwide to cope with climate extremes, the JRC study investigated global trends in resilience since 1980, considering the impacts of seven weather-related hazards: floods, flash floods, coastal floods, cold-related hazards, heatwaves, droughts, and wind-related hazards. Over 16,000 loss records of human deaths and economic losses were analysed. From 1980 to 2016, the total number of reported fatalities amounted to 815,293 and overall damage to € 2,436 billion.

 The researchers analysed all disasters worldwide for which these impacts have been reported. These range from major disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the 2003 European heatwave, which amounted to economic losses of hundreds of billions of Euros, and / or thousands of fatalities, to smaller scale events such as the January 2013 floods in South Africa, for which the reported impacts in the regions of Limpopo and Mpumalanga totalled € 38 million of damages and 12 fatalities. The study then mapped exposure to these disasters using detailed snapshots in time of human presence and wealth based on the JRC’s Global Human Settlements Layer ( and national accounts data.

 The study shows that the number of people killed by extreme climate events – as a proportion of the population exposed to such events – dropped more than sixfold over the period. The economic loss rate - i.e. the damage caused by climate extremes as a proportion of the economic value exposed to these hazards - is now about a fifth compared to the 1980s.

 The evidence also shows that when societies become wealthier they become more resilient. In countries with the lowest income levels as defined by the World Bank, the effect of increasing wealth on reducing disaster impacts was much stronger than in richer countries. Thus, the disparity in resilience between lower and higher income countries has decreased, though the gap remains considerable. The strong link between resilience and wealth suggests that poverty eradication, improved living conditions, better social protection and economic inclusiveness will further increase the capacity of countries to adapt to climate change impacts. As a country develops economically, investments in protection measures to natural hazards, early warning systems, and disaster risk management strategies improve. This also facilitate the response and recovery after a natural disaster.

 The EU Adaptation Strategy of the European Commission aims to make Europe more resilient to extreme and slow-onset climate hazards, promoting action by Member States, especially in key vulnerable sectors such as agriculture and cohesion policy, and better informed decision-making.

 The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Goals have set the global agenda for DRR through sustainable and equitable economic, social, and environmental development. 

Poorer countries remain particularly vulnerable to climate hazards and huge investments or changes may be needed to close the vulnerability gap with richer countries. With an ever increasing share of people living in urban centres, partnership initiatives such as the “Making Cities Sustainable and Resilient” Action - by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), and European Commission - could be pivotal in achieving this.

 This report is based on a news article that was published on 10 July 2019, on the JRC’s web-site (see web-link below).

Niall McCormick
European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC)

For more information:

Formetta, G. and L. Feyen. 2019. Empirical evidence of declining global vulnerability to climate-related hazards. Global Environmental Change, Vol. 57, Article 101920.

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