The new Early Warnings for All initiative will reach everyone on earth and will cost around $3bn to run over the next five years, according to the World Meteorological Organisation, the UN body spearheading the programme.
Recorded disasters are increasing at a rapid pace and becoming ever more extreme. This year alone has seen catastrophic flooding in Pakistan and west and central Africa, crippling drought in South Asia, and heatwaves and wildfires across Europe. The US state of Florida was devastated by Hurricane Ian, a few weeks after Puerto Rico was slammed by Fiona.
Yet, half of countries do not have early warning systems and even fewer have frameworks that link up early warnings and emergency plans, leaving their communities little time to prepare or escape.
The countries least like to have synched-up plans are those in lesser developed countries and developing small island states.
The UN secretary general Antonio Guterres told the gathering in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday that it would cost the equivalent of 50 cents per person annually for the next five years to develop a system to reach everyone on Earth, with those most at-risk focused on first.
“Rising greenhouse gas emissions are supercharging extreme weather events across the planet. These increasing calamities cost lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in loss and damage. Three times more people are displaced by climate disasters than war. Half of humanity is already in the danger zone,” the UN chief said.
“We must invest equally in adaptation and resilience. That includes the information that allows us to anticipate storms, heatwaves, floods and droughts.”
The vast sum is dwarfed by the benefits, the UN says, and will cover strategies including public information, forecasting and communication of early warnings.
It also noted that early warning systems are “low-hanging fruit” among the countless plans that are needed to adapt to climate change.
The Global Commission on Adaptation found that spending $800m on such systems in developing countries would avoid losses of $3 to $16bn per year.
The plan was drawn up by WMO and partners and supported by a joint statement signed by 50 countries.
“Early warnings save lives and provide vast economic benefits. Just 24 hours’ notice of an impending hazardous event can cut the ensuing damage by 30 per cent,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas.