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Poorest nations hit hardest by cost of climate disasters, new calculations show

27 December 2023

Alamy

Devastation near Port Vila, in Vanuatu, in March, after a cyclone passed through the area

Devastation near Port Vila, in Vanuatu, in March, after a cyclone passed through the area

A NEW study commissioned by Christian Aid suggests that the cost of climate breakdown is unevenly spread around the globe, taking account of economic inequality and the vulnerability of certain regions to natural disasters.

The report, Counting the Cost, was published on Wednesday, and concludes that the Hawaiian wildfires had the highest per-capita cost of all climate-change related disasters in 2023, at more than $4000 per occupant of the affected area (News, 18 August).

The next costliest disaster from a financial perspective was Typhoon Mawar, which hit Guam in May, at a cost of almost $1500 per person.

Others cost less per person, but directly affected a much larger number of people: for instance, Cyclone Freddy, which hit Malawi in the spring (News, 17 March), is listed as having affected two million people and caused the death of 679.

Christian Aid’s climate-justice policy adviser in Bangladesh, Nushrat Chowdhury, said:Cyclone Freddy was a reminder that communities who have contributed the least to the climate crisis are suffering the worst.

“Loss-and-damage costs are in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually in developing countries alone. Wealthy nations must commit the new and additional money required to ensure the loss-and-damage fund agreed at COP28 can quickly get help to those that need it most.” During the COP meeting in Dubai, $700 million was pledged to the fund.

The report highlights the aggregate effect of the costs of the disasters by identifying the value of the damage by percentage of GDP. Because of the scale of the United States economy, the fires in Hawaii rank very low on this scale, while the cyclones that struck Vanuatu, in March, had a significant impact on the archipelago’s GDP.

The forecast of economic growth shrank from 3.6 per cent to three per cent as a result of the storms, and the cost per person — calculated at $947 — amounted to one third of the GDP per capita in Vanuatu.

The disasters analysed by Christian Aid have all been causally linked to climate change, and so exclude the earthquakes which caused devastation in Morocco, Turkey, and Syria (News, 5 May).

The chief executive of Christian Aid, Patrick Watt, writes in the foreword to the report: “With the frequency and intensity of climate disasters projected to increase dramatically soon, governments must take decisive action now — individually and collectively — to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees, and adapt to the effects of climate change.”

The methodology of calculating the cost of damage was chosen, the report says, in order to demonstrate that, “however successful our efforts to mitigate climate change, huge resources will need to be mobilised for adaptation and loss and damage”.

At the conclusion of COP28 this month, the Anglican Communion’s delegation welcomed movement towards establishing the financial provision to help countries to adapt to the effects of climate change, and to recover from disasters, but lamented that progress was too slow (News, 15 December).

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