CNN.com, Dec. 12, 2003
MILAN, Italy --Climate change may have cost the world over $60 billion in 2003, triggering a spate of natural disasters from a deadly heat wave in Europe to massive flooding in China, the United Nations has said.
In a report released on Wednesday, the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) said the cost of natural disasters had risen 10 percent from $55 billion in 2002 and was part of a worrying trend of climate change.
The agency, which is hosting a 12-day climate conference that ends Friday in Milan, called on nations to make a greater effort to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, as a way of tackling the crisis.
"Climate change is not a prognosis, it is a reality that is, and will increasingly, bring human suffering and economic hardship," UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said.
"Developed countries have a responsibility to reduce their emissions, but also have a responsibility to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of global warming."
As officials from 80 nations meet, the United Nations is working out details on how countries can trade in "pollution credits."
The United Nations has been pushing for nations to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to cut emissions linked to global warming.
But the 1997 treaty remains ungratified and not in force, with Russia a key stumbling block.
The United States said two years ago it wouldn't come on board because of concerns the treaty's targets would hurt the economy.
Scientists are also divided over how much human activities, including emissions, are linked to global warming and natural disasters such as flooding and heat waves.
The protocol needs to be ratified by industrialized countries which together account for at least 55 percent of 1990's level of greenhouse gas emissions.
Without the U.S. or Russia, the 55-percent threshold is unattainable.
The failure to move ahead on Kyoto has lead experts, such as head of weather research at Munich Re insurance, Thomas Loster, to warn nations to get used to heat waves like the one that hit Europe this year.
He has said such extreme summers will likely become the norm by the middle of the century.
"The summer of 2003, with its extensive losses, is therefore a glimpse into the future, a 'future summer' so to speak," Loster said, in a view echoed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The European heat wave killed around 20,000 people. Experts said it was the most costly single event of 2003 with agricultural losses alone estimated to be over $10 billion.
Flooding along the Huai and Yangtze Rivers in China between July and September was the next most costly.
It damaged 650,000 apartments, estimated to cost nearly $8 billion, according to the preliminary "snapshot" findings from Munich Re.
The conference is also looking to see how developing nations are getting on with using cleaner energies and also checking to see how industrialized powers are cleaning up their industries.
Copyright 2003 CNN. All rights reserved.