The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) annual State of the Global Climate 2022 report suggests that extreme heat and food insecurity are becoming more common – presenting risks for travellers.
The report noted that ‘for global temperature, the years 2015–2022 were the eight warmest on record, despite the cooling impact of a La Niña event for the past three years’. Meanwhile, ‘drought, floods and heatwaves affected communities on every continent, and cost many billions of dollars’.
“While greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and the climate continues to change, populations worldwide continue to be gravely impacted by extreme weather and climate events,” said Professor Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the WMO. “For example, in 2022, continuous drought in East Africa, record breaking rainfall in Pakistan and record-breaking heatwaves in China and Europe affected tens of millions, drove food insecurity, boosted mass migration, and cost billions of dollars in loss and damage.”
Intense weather-related deaths
The report noted that the changing climate caused record-breaking rain in Pakistan in July and August 2022, leading to the deaths of over 1,700 people and displacing eight million more. Total damages from the floods were assessed at US$30 billion.
Meanwhile, similarly record-breaking heatwaves affected other regions during the same summer, with excess deaths associated with the heat in Europe exceeding 15,000 across France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the UK. Likewise, China experienced its most extensive and long-lasting heatwave since national records began between mid-June and the end of August, resulting in the second driest summer on record.
Extreme weather is a growing concern for insurers around the world as the global climate changes – with floods and storms already being the driving force behind global insured catastrophe losses. However, the increasing prevalence of extreme summer heat in traditionally mild regions such as Europe suggests that insurers and travellers may need to place even greater consideration on weather-related health risks in the future.
Food insecurity causes national instability
A more subtle, but no less worrying effect of global temperatures is the potential for droughts to cause food shortages. The WMO noted that East Africa has experienced five consecutive wet seasons of below-average rainfall – the longest such sequence in 40 years – leading to an estimated 20 million people across the region facing acute food insecurity.
In 2022, heatwaves in the pre-monsoon season in India and Pakistan also caused a decline in crop yields. “This,” the report continued, “combined with the banning of wheat exports and restrictions on rice exports in India after the start of the conflict in Ukraine, threatened the availability, access and stability of staple foods within international food markets, and posed high risks to countries already affected by shortages of staple foods.”
Food shortages can be a major cause of social unrest within a country – as demonstrated last year, when the island nation of Sri Lanka experienced rioting and a mass government resignation due to shortages of food, medicine, fuel and other resources. This was driven in part by the Sri Lankan government’s decision in 2021 to ban the import of all chemical fertilisers.