Top 10 extreme climate events of 2021 cost world more than $170bn, report says

A man rides a bicycle on a road covered in sand in the wake of Hurricane Ida on September 3, 2021 in Grand Isle, Louisiana (Getty Images)
A man rides a bicycle on a road covered in sand in the wake of Hurricane Ida on September 3, 2021 in Grand Isle, Louisiana (Getty Images)

The ten most devastating climate events of 2021, including hurricanes in the US, China, and India as well as floods in Australia, Europe and Canada, caused more than $170bn of financial devastation across the world, according to a new report.

The analysis from the charity Christian Aid assessed the financial toll of ten extreme events that each caused more than $1.5 bn worth damages.

Hurricane Ida, which struck the US late in August, topped the list at $65bn, and the floods in Europe came second at $43bn. The Texas winter storm in February cost the US more than $23bn, according to the report.

A majority of the weather events in the list with high financial costs occurred in developed countries such as the US, Canada and Australia.

The report also assessed the toll from five events which, while carrying a lower financial cost, brought “devastating human impacts” such as droughts in Africa and Latin America, and floods in South Sudan.

Unless the world quickly acts to cut carbon emissions, the report warned that these kinds of multibillion dollar-costing disasters were likely to worsen.

The authors also warned that scientists still do not fully understand how some of these extreme weather events such as the Texas Winter Storm occur within the overall pattern of global warming.

Scientists have found growing evidence that many extreme weather events across the world, including tropical cyclones, hurricanes, floods and droughts, are aggravated by global warming-induced climate change.

Pointing to the example of tropical cyclone Tauktae, which affected India, Sri Lanka and Maldives in May and caused nearly 200 deaths, the report said that such intense events were becoming more common with climate change.

“Cyclone Tauktae underwent a process called rapid intensification, by which tropical cyclones gain wind speed and strength in relatively short periods of time, which makes it harder to prepare for landfall, and which is becoming more frequent due to climate change,” the report noted.

It added that conditions favouring prolonged heavy rainfall and extensive flooding — such as the one that devastated the eastern Australian coast in March — will become up to 80 per cent more likely by the end of the century if carbon emissions were not reduced within the goals of the Paris agreement.

“As the planet becomes warmer due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, the atmosphere can hold more water, driving extreme rainfall during cyclones, which can lead to more flooding,” the report explained, citing the example of cyclone Yaas, which caused 19 deaths in May and forced thousands of people to flee their homes in India and Bangladesh.

According to the report, 2021 is expected to be the sixth time global natural catastrophes have crossed the $100bn insured loss threshold. All six instances have happened since 2011, and 2021 is the fourth in five years.

The first part of its sixth assessment report, published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in August, noted that more frequent and more extreme weather events were already becoming the norm.

“The consequences will continue to get worse for every bit of warning and – for many of these consequences – there’s no turning back,” Professor Ed Hawkins, a climate researcher at the University of Reading, one of the scientists behind the milestone report, had said.

“The COP26 summit in Glasgow generated plenty of headlines but without concrete emissions cuts and financial support the world will continue to suffer,” the authors wrote in the new report.