- Christian Aid report identifies 10 events that cost more than $1 billion each, with four events costing more than $7 billion each
Extreme weather, driven by climate change, hit every populated continent in 2018, killing, injuring and displacing millions and causing major economic damage costing billions of dollars, according to a report by Christian Aid.
Counting the Cost: a year of climate breakdown identifies 10 of the most destructive droughts, floods, fires, heatwaves, typhoons and hurricanes of 2018, each of which caused damage of over US$1 billion. Four of the events cost more than $7 billion each. These figures are likely to be underestimates - in some cases they include only insured losses and do not take into account the costs of lost productivity and uninsured losses.
All of these billion-dollar disasters are linked with human-caused climate change. In some cases scientific studies have shown that climate change made the particular event more likely or stronger, for example with Hurricane Florence and the summer’s heatwaves in Europe and Japan. In other cases, the event was the result of shifts in weather patterns - like higher temperatures and reduced rainfall that made fires more likely or warmer water temperatures that supercharged tropical storms - that are themselves consequences of climate change.
While the report focuses on the financial cost of climate change-driven extreme weather events, in many developing countries the human cost of climate change to vulnerable communities is even higher than the financial cost, and there are many slow-onset droughts, weather change and sea encroachment that are progressively and devastatingly impacting millions of people worldwide.
The most financially costly disasters identified by the report were Hurricanes Florence and Michael, which hit the US and parts of Central America and the Caribbean, causing damage initially estimated at $17 billion for Florence and $15 billion for Michael. Other disasters featured in the report include:
- Drought in Argentina, which slashed the soybean and corn crops, costing $6 billion and helping tip the country into recession.
- Floods in Kerala, India - the worst for more than 80 years - which killed about 500 people and forced more than a million from their homes.
- Japan's extreme summer - floods killed at least 230 people, costing $7 billion, and were followed by record-breaking heat and then Typhoon Jebi, the most powerful storm to hit the country for 25 years.
- Typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines and China, which killed 133 people and destroyed 10,000 homes.
- Drought in Cape Town, South Africa, which brought the city to within weeks of “Day Zero”, the date when authorities planned to shut off the water supply to 75% of the city, leaving residents only able to get 25 litres a day from water points protected by armed soldiers.
- Wildfires in California, US, including the Camp Fire in November, which was the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history, killing at least 85 people.
Dr Kat Kramer, Christian Aid’s Global Climate Lead, said:
“Climate change is something still often talked about as a future problem, not least because we know the consequences of the warming climate are so devastating and don’t want to face up to what is already happening. This report shows that for many people, climate change is having devastating impacts on their lives and livelihoods right now. The great injustice of climate breakdown is that the people that suffer first and worst, are the world’s poor that have done the least to contribute to the crisis.
“History will judge us on how we act now, as there is still a window of opportunity to avert more suffering. We must respond to the warning these disasters are giving us and avert more and worse ones, by accelerating the transition to a zero carbon economy: one run on clean, renewable energy that will deliver a safer climate for everyone.”
Dr Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change & Development (ICCCAD), Bangladesh, said:
“The year 2018 has proved to be a tipping point in the world seeing major climatic disasters that are now clearly attributable scientifically to human induced climate change having raised global temperature by around a degree already.
“Countries like Bangladesh are suffering the consequences of such climatic disasters. This makes it even more urgent for all countries, especially the biggest emitters, to reduce their emissions to keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees.”
Dr. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State University, said:
“The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. We are seeing them play out now, on our television screens, newspaper headlines and social media feeds. The unprecedented floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires & superstorms we’ve seen in recent years - they are the face of climate change. The world's weather is becoming more extreme before our eyes - the only thing that can stop this destructive trend from escalating is a rapid fall in carbon emissions."
Dr Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said:
“The year has once again featured extremes of weather made worse by human-induced climate change, with major consequences, costs, and human suffering. It is a global problem, shared among all peoples of the world, and US leadership is wonting. Let's make the planet cool again!”
2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record, with average global temperatures nearly 1°C above the pre-industrial average. The warming trend is clear, with the last four years the hottest on record, and matches scientific projections of the results of human emissions of greenhouse gases.