A new report shows that 2021 continued the trend of annual climate devastation worldwide that is costing the global economy hundreds of billions of dollars as planet-heating emissions unleash exactly the kind of damage scientists have warned about for decades.
The new report released Dec. 27 by Christian Aid—entitled “Counting the Cost 2021: A Year of Climate Breakdown”—analyzed the 15 “most destructive climate disasters” around the world over the last 12 months of the year and found that the top 10 events alone, based mostly on losses documented by insurance claims, came to approximately $170 billion. With the next five smaller events assessed by the study not included in that total—and recognizing that the real costs are much higher overall than those available by insurance figures alone—the true figure is certainly much higher.
In the United States, the Texas Winter Storm earlier this year that cost $23 billion came in as the third most destructive event worldwide in 2021 while the devastation of Hurricane Ida, totaling $65 billion across numerous states, took the number one spot. At $43 billion, extreme floods that hit European nations over the summer collectively represented the second-most costly disaster of the year.
According to a statement by the group:
Some of the disasters in 2021 hit rapidly, like Cyclone Yaas, which struck India and Bangladesh in May and caused losses valued at $3 billion in just a few days. Other events took months to unfold, like the Paraná River drought in Latin America, which has seen the river, a vital part of the region’s economy, at its lowest level in 77 years and impacted lives and livelihoods in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
Four of the ten most costly events took place in Asia, with floods and typhoons costing a combined $24 billion. But the impact of extreme weather was felt all over the world. Australia suffered floods in March which displaced 18,000 people and saw damage worth $2.1 billion while floods in Canada’s British Colombia led to $7.5 billion in damage and 15,000 people having to flee their homes. Insurance and financial loss data on the recent tornadoes in the U.S. is incomplete, so is not included in this report but may be included in next year’s study.
Christian Aid said that while their report focuses on financial costs, typically higher in richer countries due to higher property values and the existence of insurance markets, “some of the most devastating extreme weather events in 2021 hit poorer nations, which have contributed little to causing climate change.”
Dr. Kat Kramer, the group’s climate policy lead and author of the report, said dollar signs alone cannot calculate the losses caused by extreme weather.
“The costs of climate change have been grave this year, both in terms of eye-watering financial losses but also in the death and displacement of people around the world,” Dr. Kramer said. “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.”
Dr. Kramer said that there was some progress made at the recent UN climate summit in Glasgow, but that the latest findings show “it is clear that the world is not on track to ensure a safe and prosperous world.”
The figures for 2021 fall into a steady pattern in which the costs of extreme weather events and climate destruction continue to climb, just as climate scientists have long warned.
The report notes that “unless the world acts rapidly to cut emissions these kinds of disasters are likely to worsen,” and references data by UK-based insurance giant Aon which show that 2021 is now likely to be the sixth time over the last decade in which global destruction from extreme weather events have crossed the $100 billion insured loss threshold. “All six have happened since 2011,” the report states, “and 2021 will be the fourth in five years.”
Responding to the new report, Rachel Mander, a member of the Young Christian Climate Network and who took part in activism related to the COP26 summit in Glasgow, said: “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 are distributed and do not worsen global inequality, while also making activities which drive climate change more expensive.”
—John Queally, CommonDreams.org