Counting costs of climate catastrophe: USD 170 bn in 2021

Drought of action in face of flood of catastrophes


December 28, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Counting costs of climate catastrophe: USD 170 bn in 2021

Cyclone Yaas looming over the Bay of Bengal (Photo: NASA)

Yet another report published on Monday says that the cost of climate emergency that has taken hold of the Earth thanks to global warming continues to escalate rapidly, reaching record high in 2021. Yet, neither the governments nor the businesses seem to be in no rush to mend their ways.

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A report published by British charity Christian Aid says that the 10 biggest extreme weather events in 2021 caused damage exceeding USD 170 billion, while claiming more than 1075 lives and displacing 1.3 million people worldwide. The charity goes on to say that this is the highest ever cost in human lives as well as in financial costs of the damage caused by the extreme events, all provoked by climate change and global warming.

As if to show yet again to the leaders living in denial about climate change in their part of the world, the 10 worst climate disasters this year took place literally all over the world from the Americas to Australasia and from East Asia down to South America. Christian Aid’s report highlights events ranging from hurricanes in the United States, China and India to floods in Australia, Europe and Canada. The report also reviews five events, which may have been financially less expensive, but carried devastating human impacts such as drought in Africa and Latin America and floods in South Sudan.

The most damaging of the events was the Hurricane Ida that hit the US in August and caused damage exceeding at USD 65 billion. The second most expensive climate event in the year were the floods that devastated vast tracts of Western Europe, notably Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, in July and which costs USD 43 billion. It also led to 240 deaths, one of the highest such loss in a number of years and spread across the continent.

The third most expensive disaster was also in the US where the winter storm that hit Texas in February caused USD 23 billion in damages. Ironically, as if weather gods were sending a message, the two main disasters to hit the US both occurred in southern part of the country where a far greater number of people and elected representatives continue to deny any connection between human activity and climate change.


Asia & India not spared either

But it was not that more climate-aware parts of the world were spared the miseries of extreme climate events. China’s Henan province was rocked by what were called one in 1000 years floods in July that led to over 300 deaths and caused USD 17.6 billion in material damages.

India, too, had its share of disasters in the year, with two back-to-back cyclones in May making it to the top 10 global list. First it was Cyclone Tuktae that hit India, Sri Lanka and Maldives on May 14-19 that left 198 persons dead and damaged property of over USD 1.5 billion. This was quickly followed by Cyclone Yaas that hit India and Bangladesh from May 25-29. Though it claimed relatively fewer lives, 19 in all, the cyclone was highly damaging in economic terms and left property worth USD 3 billion in ruins.

Though some of the events did not make it to the top 10 in terms of economic damages, their human costs were astounding enough. High on this list is the unprecedented heat wave, the Pacific Northwest Heatwave, that had struck the Pacific Coast of northern North America, claiming 1037 lives in Canada and the United States in a 12-day period from June 25. Another incident that left huge human costs in its wake was the drought the in the Lake Chad area in central Africa.

One of the largest lakes in Africa, the Lake Chad has been suffering from a prolonged drought, leading to drying up of over 90 pc of the lake. The severe drought has led to clashes between the communities living around the Lake Chad in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad and led to displacement of over 5 million people. Moreover, earlier in December, violent clashes broke out over water usage, leading to dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries.


Political and business leaders remain unmoved

Despite such widespread damage and tens of thousands of deaths every year and the sharp rise in material and life costs of climate-related incidents each year, there is little to show that either the governments or the business leaders are taking the steps that are direly needed to curb carbon emissions urgently to arrest global warming.

The Christian Aid report cautions that unless the world acts rapidly to cut emissions these kinds of disasters are likely to worsen. It quotes Steve Bowen, Meteorologist & Head of Catastrophe Insight at insurers Aon, as saying that 2021 is expected to be the sixth time global natural catastrophes have crossed the USD 100 billion insured loss threshold. All six have happened since 2011 and 2021 will be the fourth in five years.

The report also highlights that despite the pandemic and the lockdowns which led industry as well as transport to be closed for prolonged periods, the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses reached a new all-time record. It cites a report by the World Meteorological Organisation that was published in October. Moreover, the latest Emissions Gap Report published by the United Nations Environment Programme in November shows that the national climate plans which make up the Paris Agreement were not currently on track to ensure global heating is kept below 1.5°C.

Indeed, in face of mounting evidence that global warming is a catastrophe that is rapidly taking the entire planet towards disaster and severe threat to all forms of life, the business and government leaders have done little than pay lip service, instead of launching actions that would immediately and significantly cut emissions, in an attempt to stabilise the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

The Christian Aid report says that the COP26 summit in October in Scottish capital Glasgow generated plenty of headlines but without concrete emissions cuts and financial support the world will continue to suffer. One glaring omission from the outcome in Glasgow was a fund to deal with the permanent loss and damage caused by climate change. This is one issue which will need to be addressed at COP27 in Egypt in 2022, it says, rather optimistically.



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