The cost of climate inaction

| 4th January 2022 |

Asunta Nyanut Deng, 55. Asunta's farm is flooded, causing destruction of her crops, and very little for her and her family to eat. Floods and drought have caused hunger. The village, in Aweil South, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, is left in dire need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

PA
Christian Aid reports climate storms caused death and displacement around the world - as well as financial costs.

The costs of climate change have been grave this year.

Climate-related disasters caused “eye-watering” costs in 2021 with some events racking up tens of billions of dollars in damage, a charity has warned.

A report from Christian Aid, which highlights 15 of the worst weather extremes including floods, storms and droughts last year, warns they caused death and displacement around the world, as well as financial costs.

And as the impacts of rising temperatures on more extreme weather become ever clearer, people in the UK think climate change should be a top priority for the UK Government in 2022, above healthcare and the economy, according to a poll for the aid agency.

Cyclones

The report says 10 of the extreme events each cost more than £1.1 billion, including Hurricane Ida in the US in August which cost £49 billion and July’s floods across parts of Europe which totalled £33 billion of damage.

Most of the estimates for financial costs only include insured losses, so the real price is likely to be much higher, Christian Aid said.

Financial costs of disasters are usually greater in rich countries which have higher property values and can afford insurance.

But some of the most devastating extremes in 2021 hit poor nations which have contributed little to the problem of climate breakdown, and where the disasters cause food shortages and force thousands to flee their homes, such as floods in South Sudan which displaced more than 850,000 people.

Four of the 10 most expensive disasters were in Asia, with floods and cyclones causing damage totalling £18 billion.

Havoc

These included torrential rains in the Chinese province of Henan, which caused massive floods, the death of 302 people and damage amounting to £13.3 billion, the report said.

A warming world is driving more intense rainstorms and making Pacific typhoons and Indian Ocean cyclones more extreme, the report said.

Europe’s extreme rainfall in July, which caused floods in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg that killed at least 240 people and cost more than 43 billion dollars, was made more likely and heavier because of climate breakdown, scientists have found.

Climate breakdown could even be having an effect on extreme cold spells, such as the one in Texas in February which may have been influenced by a rapidly warming Arctic, and cold weather in April in France which wreaked havoc on vineyards that are coming into bud earlier in the year because of rising temperatures.

Eye-watering

Insurer Aon has said that 2021 is expected to be the sixth time global natural catastrophes have crossed the 100 billion dollar insured loss threshold, with all six happening since 2011, the report said.

Polling by Savanta ComRes, released alongside the report, asked 2,197 people what the UK Government’s new year resolution for 2022 should be focused on.

The costs of climate change have been grave this year.

Climate change and the environment topped the list with 27 percent of people opting for it, ahead of healthcare on 23 percent and the economy on 19 percent, the poll found.

Dr Kat Kramer, Christian Aid’s climate policy lead and report author, said: “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.

Priority

“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.”

She said that while there was some progress on tackling climate change at UN Cop26 talks in Glasgow in November, the world was not on track to ensure a safe and prosperous future.

Dr Kramer added: “It’s striking that, despite being in the middle of a pandemic, the public view this issue as a greater policy priority than both healthcare and the economy.

“If the Prime Minister wants to build on the legacy of Cop26 he needs to ensure climate change is a government priority in 2022,” she urged.

The top 10 most expensive climate-related disasters in 2021:

February: Texas winter storm in the US, 23 billion dollars

March: Australian floods, 2.1 billion dollars

April: French cold wave, 5.6 billion dollars

May: Cyclone Tauktae which hit India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, 1.5 billion dollars

May: Cyclone Yaas hit India and Bangladesh, three billion dollars

July: European floods in Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, 43 billion dollars

July: Henan floods in China, 17.6 billion dollars

July: Typhoon In-fa caused floods in China, Philippines and Japan, two billion dollars

August-September: Hurricane Ida, a tropical cyclone which hit the US, 65 billion dollars

November: British Columbia floods in Canada, 7.5 billion dollars

Other damaging extreme events highlighted include the South Sudan floods, displacing more than 850,000 people, the Pacific northwest heatwave in the US which killed more than 1,000 people and the Parana river drought which has affected parts of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil since 2019.

This Author

Emily Beament is the environment correspondent at PA. 

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