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Every day Red Cross Red Crescent staff and volunteers around the world are out there responding to emergencies and natural disasters. Across the 192 countries we work in, their message is the same: we are seeing a clear rise in climate and weather related-emergencies, with impacts compounded by Covid-19, and felt most harshly in conflict-affected regions.

Wildfires, drought, flooding, heat waves, hurricanes; extreme weather events are happening more often, and are putting more people in danger. Red Cross research found in the last decade 83% of all disasters triggered by natural hazards were caused by extreme weather and climate-related events, and sadly have killed more than 410,000, the vast majority in low and lower middle-income countries.

We are already feeling the heat now at 1.1°C global warming. Last year alone included unprecedented heatwaves in North America, flash floods in London, Germany, and Belgium, wildfires in Southern Europe, and flooding and drought in Kenya.

As the scientific community and UN call the latest evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report a “code red for humanity” there’s no time for delay in scaling up action.

The good news is, thanks to investment in weather forecasting capability globally, we are collectively better equipped to prepare for these events today than we have ever been. We’re better able to predict the weather, we no longer have to wait until a disaster strikes, and we can take action before the impact of these hazards are felt.

One in three people are still not adequately covered by early warning systems, let alone early action plans. We can have the most amazing weather forecasting capabilities, but if the message doesn’t reach the community, come in a language they can understand, from a trusted source, in a format people know how to react to, it won’t save lives.

In areas where people are receiving early warnings, we still face the challenge of acting early. Funding commitments to act early and prearrange finance before a disaster strikes featured on the global agenda from the G7 in Cornwall to COP26 in Glasgow, but we still have some way to go to make early action the default response.

By 2050, the UK will be 50% more likely to experience hot summers, and heat-related deaths could triple, reaching around 7,000 annually

Pre-agreed funding to act swiftly before a crisis strikes is critical. Globally, less than 3% of humanitarian funding is currently available for anticipatory humanitarian action. The UK COP Presidency and UK Government are a leading proponent of acting early. The Race to Resilience and the support of the Risk Informed Early Action Partnership (REAP) will save lives linking scientific, humanitarian, and donor expertise to make a real shift and scale action for communities and people most affected by climate change.

In Bangladesh, thanks to robust early warning and early action systems, 2.4 million people were evacuated prior to Cyclone Amphan hitting. An extensive shelter network was opened and people were supported to evacuate safely by 70,000 volunteers, including from the Bangladesh Red Crescent.

The importance of building resilience and early action to new climate extremes is also crucial in the UK and across Europe, from flash floods and storms to the growing risk of heat. The Climate Change Committee identified tackling the health risks from heat as a urgent priority for government.

Extreme heat is one of the deadliest, but also one of the most hidden extreme weather hazards – a silent killer in the UK. Heatwaves are becoming more frequent, longer and more extreme. By 2050, the UK will be 50% more likely to experience hot summers, and heat-related deaths could triple, reaching around 7,000 annually.

In 2020, here in the UK, we sadly had the highest ever recorded excess deaths as a result of heat – with over 2,500 excess heat related deaths recorded in England alone. Worryingly, British Red Cross research found a significant perception gap on heat risk, with 1 in 4 people thinking the UK isn’t hot enough for a heatwave. We know older people are more at risk, but we found that over half of over 75s in the UK do not identify themselves as higher risk in hotter weather, which means they are less likely to take life saving early action.

We need the systems, plans, and finance in place to scale early warning, early action now. We need to build resilience to existing risks, shocks, and more extreme weather by harnessing the knowledge and building the capacity of local volunteers and communities most affected. As we look to COP27, 2022 will be critical year to scale up early action to safeguard against disasters.

Mary Friel is the Climate and Resilience Policy Manager, and was the COP26 Policy & Advocacy Manager, for the British Red Cross. This article first appeared in our Centre Write magazine Favourable climate? Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Pixabay]