In September 2019, after a two-year drought and some of the hottest days on record, wildfires broke out across eastern Australia. The fires raged for seven months and consumed 75,000 square miles. They displaced tens of thousands of people and destroyed almost 3,000 homes. In Melbourne, the air quality was 30 percent worse than in famously toxic New Delhi. Researchers estimate that more than one billion animals died in the conflagration. And the total economic damage is expected to exceed the previous $4.4 billion record set by the Black Saturday fires in 2009.

The Australian fires were a particularly harsh reminder of the effects of climate change, but they were hardly the only one to make the headlines recently. Between 2010 and 2019, natural disasters cost the world approximately $2.98 trillion, making the last decade the costliest one on record. And in the first half of 2019, extreme weather displaced seven million people, setting a new midyear high. The situation

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  • JOHN PODESTA is Founder and a Member of the Board of Directors of the Center for American Progress. He served as Chief of Staff for U.S. President Bill Clinton and Counselor to U.S. President Barack Obama, overseeing climate and energy policy.
  • TODD STERN is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and served as Special Envoy for Climate Change under U.S. President Barack Obama.
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