The cost of climate change: 2021 disasters ran up a serious tab

London, UK - Climate-related disasters have caused "eye-watering" costs in 2021, with some that racked up tens of billions of dollars in damage, a British aid agency has warned.

High costs came with heavy flooding in NYC, Sudan, and Germany.
High costs came with heavy flooding in NYC, Sudan, and Germany.  © Collage: IMAGO / BeckerBredel & ZUMA Wire

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

The report says 10 of the extreme events each cost more than $1.5 billion, including Hurricane Ida in the US in August which cost $65 billion and July's floods across parts of Europe which totaled $43 billion in damages.

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 have hit poor nations which have contributed little to the problem of climate change, 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 totaling $24 billion.

These included torrential rains in the Chinese province of Henan, which caused massive floods, the death of 302 people and damage amounting to $17.6 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, was made more likely and heavier because of climate change, scientists have found.

Record-setting costs

Texas got hit hard by a snap freeze in February, 2021.
Texas got hit hard by a snap freeze in February, 2021.  © Collage: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Climate change 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.

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

Here are 10 of the most expensive climate-related disasters in 2021, according to the report:

  • February: Texas winter storm in the US – $23 billion
  • March: Australian floods – $2.1 billion
  • April: French cold wave – $5.6 billion
  • May: Cyclone Tauktae, which hit India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives – $1.5 billion
  • May: Cyclone Yaas, which hit India and Bangladesh – $3 billion
  • July: European floods in Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg – $43 billion
  • July: Henan floods in China – $17.6 billion
  • July: Typhoon In-fa, which caused floods in China, Philippines, and Japan – $2 billion
  • August-September: Hurricane Ida in the US – $65 billion
  • November: British Columbia floods in Canada – $7.5 billion

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 Paraná river drought which has affected parts of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil since 2019.

Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO / BeckerBredel & ZUMA Wire

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