Global losses from climate disasters far exceeds $100bn in 2021

Scientists say global warming makes catastrophes such as floods and droughts more likely

People sit in the remains of their destroyed home after Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana in the US. The storm was ranked the year’s costliest disaster, causing $65bn of damage. Photo: AFP
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Climate disasters have caused far in excess of $100 billion worth of damage this year, according to research that described 2021 as one of the costliest years on record.

Extreme flooding in Europe, hurricanes in the US and cyclones on the Indian subcontinent were among the expensive disasters that experts suspect were partly fuelled by climate change.

While attributing specific events to climate change is an imperfect science, experts believe a warming planet will make such disasters more frequent.

The financial costs collated by Christian Aid come after a year of warnings that the price of taking climate action now would be far exceeded by the burdens of ignoring the crisis.

The outcomes from the Cop26 summit in Glasgow “do not currently leave the world on track” to prevent catastrophic climate change, the charity’s report 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,” said report author Dr Katherine Kramer.

“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.”

Soldiers joined the emergency response after extreme flooding in Germany during the summer. Photo: AFP

Hurricane Ida, which killed dozens of people after hitting the US in August, was ranked the year’s costliest disaster with $65bn of damage.

The summer floods in Europe, which were especially catastrophic in Germany but also affected France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, caused about $43bn in losses.

One study found that downpours such as the ones in Europe were between 3 and 19 per cent more severe because of man-made global warming.

Four of the ten costliest disasters took place in Asia, with typhoons and floods costing a combined $24bn, the charity said.

It makes 2021 the sixth time, according to estimates, that global catastrophes have cost a combined $100 billion. Four of those bumper bills have come in the past five years.

As well as the financial costs, the disasters left people dead, injured and homeless. There were 18,000 people displaced by floods in Australia, and another 15,000 fled their homes because of high waters in Canada.

The Cop26 negotiations in Glasgow brought fresh promises of funding to tackle climate change. Getty

The costs shine a spotlight on the thorny issue of climate finance, which was one of the main topics of negotiation at Cop26.

Rich countries are under pressure to come good on a promise to arrange $100bn of annual funding. One particularly contentious issue is that of compensation for damage that has already been caused.

“It is the industrialised north that has contributed to much of the climate change we see today,” said Dr Anjal Prakash, a lead author of a UN report on oceans and climate change.

“Those countries had agreed to mobilise $100bn of climate finance per year by 2020 but failed to meet this goal.”

As well as the renewed $100bn pledge, Cop26 led to promises from private investors to manage their trillions of dollars in assets in climate-friendly ways.

The goal of these global climate efforts is to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

If this is breached by even half a degree, floods and droughts would become far more likely, according to a major UN report published in August.

Updated: December 29th 2021, 6:11 PM