EXTREME weather — including hurricanes, soaring temperatures, drought, and floods — cost the world nearly $100 billion (£79 billion) last year, as well as the human cost of thousands of lives lost, an analysis of the financial burden of climate change suggests.
The Christian Aid report Counting the Cost identifies ten weather “events” that cost more than $1 billion each: four cost more than $7 billion each.
The most costly events were the hurricanes Florence and Michael, in the United States, which cost $17 billion and $15 billion each. Michael was the strongest storm to hit the continental United States since 1969, and killed 45 people in the US and at least 13 in Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.
The California wildfires this autumn, which killed at least 91 people, cost up to $13 billion; and drought across Europe in the summer is estimated to have cost $7.5 billion. Initial estimates of the number of deaths caused by the heat in Europe include nearly 1500 people in France and 250 in Denmark. Wildfires sparked by the high temperatures killed 99 people in Greece.
Floods in Japan in June and July cost $7 billion, and killed at least 230 people.
Christian Aid warned that the real figures were almost certainly higher, as the numbers in its report were based on insured losses, and did not take account of uninsured losses and loss of productivity due to damaged businesses and homes.
All of the disasters are linked to human-caused climate change, the report says. In a bleak conclusion, the authors warn that 2018 is “unlikely to be exceptional. . . In fact, it may soon seem a mild year.” They say that forecasts for this year suggest that it is likely to be even hotter, and that there is a high likelihood of a new El Niño forming, influencing weather conditions around the world.
Dr Michael Mann, from Penn State University, said that the impacts of climate change were no longer subtle. “The unprecedented floods, droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, and super storms we’ve seen in recent years — they are the face of climate change. The world’s weather is becoming more extreme before our eyes; the only thing that can stop this destructive trend from escalating is a rapid fall in carbon emissions.”
The World Meteorological Organisation’s initial observations suggest that 2018 is likely to be the fourth warmest on record: the earth’s average temperature is hovering close to 1ºC above the levels recorded in 1850-1900.
The director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, in Bangladesh, Dr Saleemul Huq, said: “The year 2018 has proved to be a tipping point in the world, seeing major climatic disasters that are now clearly attributable scientifically to human-induced climate change having raised global temperature by around a degree already.
“Countries like Bangladesh are suffering the consequences of such climatic disasters. This makes it even more urgent for all countries, especially the biggest emitters, to reduce their emissions to keep global temperatures below 1.5º.”
Christian Aid’s global climate lead, Dr Kat Kramer, said: “Climate change is something still often talked about as a future problem, not least because we know the consequences of the warming climate are so devastating, and don’t want to face up to what is already happening.
“This report shows that, for many people, climate change is having devastating impacts on their lives and livelihoods right now. The great injustice of climate breakdown is that the people that suffer first and worst are the world’s poor that have done the least to contribute to the crisis.”