A new report by Christian Aid, Counting the cost 2021: a year of climate breakdown identifies 15 of the most destructive climate disasters of the year.
Ten of those events cost $1.5 billion or more. Most of these estimates are based only on insured losses, meaning the true financial costs are likely to be even higher. Among them is Hurricane Ida which struck the U.S. in August costing $65 billion and killing 95 people. July floods in Europe cost $43 billion and killed 240 while floods in China’s Henan province caused $17.5 billion of destruction, killed 320 and displaced over a million.
While the report focuses on financial costs, which are usually higher in richer countries because they have higher property values and can afford insurance, some of the most devastating extreme weather events in 2021 hit poorer nations, which have contributed little to causing climate change. Yet in addition to the financial cost, these extreme weather events have caused severe human suffering from food insecurity, drought and extreme weather events causing mass displacements and loss of life. South Sudan has experienced terrible floods which has seen more than 850,000 people forced to flee their homes, many of whom were already internally displaced, while East Africa continues to be ravaged with drought, highlighting the injustice of the climate crisis.
A new Savanta ComRes poll commissioned by Christian Aid has found that despite the pandemic dominating the headlines, the U.K. public think the climate crisis should be the British government’s top priority heading into 2022, above healthcare, the economy, crime, social care and housing. The respondents were asked what issue should be the government’s New Year’s Resolution for 2022, with 27% saying climate change, followed by 23% for healthcare, 14% for the economy, 9% for social care, 8% for crime, 6% for housing and 4% for education.
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.
Worryingly such climate devastation is set to continue without action to cut emissions. Insurer Aon warns that 2021 is expected to be the sixth time global natural catastrophes have crossed the $100 billion insured loss threshold. All six have happened since 2011 and 2021 will be the fourth in five years.
The report also highlights slow developing crises such as the drought in the Chad Basin which has seen Lake Chad shrink by 90% since the 1970s and threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions of the world’s poorest who live in the region.
These extreme events highlight the need for concrete climate action. The Paris Agreement, set the goal of keeping temperature rise to below 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels, yet the outcomes from COP26 in Glasgow do not currently leave the world on track to meet this goal which is why much more urgent action is required.
It’s also vital that in 2022 more is done to provide financial support to the most vulnerable countries, in particular the creation of a fund to deal with the permanent loss and damage suffered in poor countries caused by climate change.
“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. Kat Kramer, Christian Aid’s climate policy lead. “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. While it was good to see some progress made at the COP26 summit, it is clear that the world is not on track to ensure a safe and prosperous world.”