EXTREME weather events cost the world billions of dollars in 2021, and were rooted in climate breakdown, the latest report from Christian Aid says.
The report, Counting the Cost 2021: A year of climate breakdown, published on Monday, places Hurricane Ida, in the United States (News, 13 November 2009), which cost $65 billion, top of the ten most financially devastating climate events. The floods in Europe were second, at $43 billion.
Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new all-time record; the report warns that, unless the world acts rapidly to cut emissions, the typhoons, floods, and droughts that it describes are likely to worsen.
The global lead for climate change at Christian Aid and a co-author of the report, Dr Kat Kramer, said: “The costs of climate change have been grave this year, both in terms of eyewatering financial losses, but also in the death and displacement of people around the world.
“Be it storms and floods in some of the world’s richest countries, or droughts and heatwaves in some of the poorest, the climate crisis hit hard in 2021. While it was good to see some progress made at the COP26 summit, it is clear that the world is not on track to ensure a safe and prosperous world.”
The report coincides with the UN’s latest Emissions Gap Report, which says that the national climate plans under the Paris agreement are not on track to ensure that global warming is kept below 1.5ºC.
The first severe weather event of 2021, the Texas winter storm, cost an estimated $23 billion in insurance terms, but its total economic impact could be as high as $200 billion. Scientists do not fully understand how cold spells occur in the overall pattern of global warming, the report says, but possible explanations relate to the warming of the Arctic.
The Australian floods in March cost $2.1 billion. About 18,000 people had to be evacuated from the flooded region. The atmospheric conditions that led to the floods are estimated as being up to 80 per cent more likely by the end of the century, if carbon emissions are not reduced.
In France, a cold spring wave after a warm winter devastated agriculture, especially vineyards. Farmers in the Rhône region estimated that more than 80 per cent of their harvests was destroyed. The financial loss amounted to $5.6 billion. A World Weather Attribution study found that climate change increased the likelihood of this type of damage from cold waves by about 60 per cent.
There were record-breaking cyclones in India and Bangladesh in May. The $1 billion Cyclone Tauktae, in which at least 198 people died and more than 200,000 had to be evacuated, was the strongest cyclone to make landfall in Gujarat since 1999.
At $3 billion, economic losses were even higher for Cyclone Yaas, which forced more than 1.2 million people living in low-lying areas to leave their homes. The intensity of cyclones in the countries around the North Indian Ocean has been increasing over the past few decades, the report says. As the sea level rises, so does the distance that storm surges can reach.
Extreme rainfall in Western and Central Europe in July meant that some regions experienced 90 millimetres of rainfall over a single day. The floods killed at least 240 people, and caused widespread damage: economic losses were estimated at more than $43 billion.
World Weather Attribution concluded that climate change made such extreme rainfall events between 1.2 and nine times more likely to happen. Downpours in the region were now between three and 19 per cent heavier because of human-caused warming.
Torrential rains in China — the country with the highest risk of floods in the world — caused massive flooding in July: 302 people died, more than a million had to be relocated, and hundreds of thousands lost their homes. The economic cost was $17.6 billion. The report warns that, as the planet warms, a greater proportion of Chinese rain will fall as more concentrated downpours.
Typhoon In-fa, which hit China, the Philippines, and Japan in the same month, cost $2 billion. “Climate change is increasing the frequency of intense rainfall events, as a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapour,” the report notes.
“While the Philippines bear little responsibility for global warming, it is highly at risk from tropical cyclones — a situation that will worsen over the next few years due to climate change.”
The stronger winds and more intense downpours that have resulted from climate change made the above-named Hurricane Ida the fifth strongest to make landfall in the country. In one Louisiana parish, 75 per cent of the houses were destroyed and 14,000 people were forced to move.
The intense rains that caused the $7.5-billion floods in British Columbia in November were linked with the climatological phenomenon “atmospheric rivers”: narrow plumes of water that can travel through the atmosphere carrying large amounts of water and often associated with extreme precipitation events. Thousands of people were forced to leave their homes, and Vancouver was cut off from the rest of the country.
The report highlights other extreme weather events in South America, South Sudan, Nigeria, the United States, Canada, and East Africa. The River Parana drought in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay has left the river at its lowest levels for 77 years, and climate change and deforestation may both have contributed to the ongoing drought, the report says.
Lake Chad has shrunk to about 90 per cent of its original size after repeated droughts. As a result of drought in East Africa, almost 60 million people have experienced food insecurity.
The report makes four recommendations. First, countries must cut greenhouse-gas emissions urgently: urgent implementation must be a top political priority.
Second, richer countries need to provide more funding to support vulnerable communities in poorer countries, to help them top adapt and build resilience under the impact of climate change. “These countries have done the least to cause the climate crisis but suffer its effects disproportionately,” the report says.
Third, a fund to address the permanent loss and damage caused by climate change should be set up by the end of COP27 : a “glaring omission” from COP26, the report states.
Finally, all governments must invest in the transition to renewable energy, it says. Richer countries “should support developing countries so they can leapfrog the fossil-fuelled development path taken by richer nations”.
In addition, a Savanta/ComRes poll commissioned by Christian Aid found that, despite the pandemic, the UK public believed that the climate crisis should be the Government’s priority in 2022. That view was held by 27 per cent of 2197 UK adults interviewed online from 3 to 5 December. This was above health care, named by 23 per cent of respondents, and the economy (by 14 per cent).
Rachel Mander, a member of the Young Christian Climate Network, who took part in a walking relay to Glasgow for COP26 (News, 4 June), said of the report: “Climate change will bankrupt us, and along the way we will lose so much more than money.
“To avoid this eventuality, we need to take courageous action, making sure that the burden of costs is distributed and does not worsen global equality, and also making activities which drive climate change more expensive.”
Read the report here