Poor countries will be most vulnerable to climate disasters from now until 2030, researchers have warned.
In the first model pinpointing exactly when least-developed countries must receive adaptation funds from the industrialised world, researchers have predicted that the number of deaths from climate change-related disasters will be highest over the next 20 years.
After that they will subside as countries acquire the economic means to better defend themselves.
International organisations, including the World Bank and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), estimate that developing countries need US$9–100 billion a year to adapt to climate change.
But exactly how soon they should receive those funds has not been studied until now, according to Anthony Patt, a risk and vulnerability research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, who developed the model with a range of international partners.
Their research, published this week (4 January) in the Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences, used the number of human losses to natural disasters as an indicator of a country's vulnerability to climate change.
The team created a statistical model to predict how many people might be killed by natural disasters in a given country, using factors such as population and level of development.
Taking Mozambique as an example, they found that deaths caused by natural disasters are likely to peak in 2030 if the country develops sustainably. After this, they predict, the country will have developed to a stage where socioeconomic development will begin to offset risk.
Less detailed studies of 23 other least developed countries followed a similar pattern.
"[The research] isn't saying that climate change isn't going to be a problem — it's saying that, as countries' wealth changes, the inherent riskiness of living in that country changes," Patt told SciDev.Net.
"In general richer countries are less vulnerable to natural disasters because they put more money into civil protection [such as flood protection] and all sorts of things that keep people from getting killed," he added.
"So there's a big shortfall [in funding] right now, between now and about 2030, where one could see very fast rising numbers of losses to climate-related events."
Patt said that pledges made at the Copenhagen climate summit in December — of US$30 billion a year between 2010 and 2020, increasing to US$100 billion a year by 2020 — for both adaptation and mitigation are "about right". "By 2040 or 2050 it might be too late."
But it is unclear how much of the money will go to adaptation and how much to mitigation, he said.
"And the question is whether they actually do it — because there are a lot of commitments that haven't been followed through."
Patt admitted that there are some limitations to the study, for example that it doesn't take into account the magnitude of disasters, only their frequency.
He also said that basing predictions of future trends in disaster frequency on historical data — one of the ways the researchers predicted human losses — was imperfect.