From deadly storms to destructive floods, climate change-fuelled disasters have cost the world more than $170 billion in 2021, with both the poor and the rich struck hard, a British aid group said Monday.
Floods, storms and drought also killed and displaced millions of people across some of the world's poorest regions, highlighting the rising imbalance in impacts as the planet warms, humanitarian charity Christian Aid said in a report.
"The costs of climate change have been grave this year," said Kat Kramer, climate policy lead at Christian Aid and author of "Counting the cost 2021: A year of climate breakdown."
"While it was good to see some progress made at the (U.N.) COP26 summit, it is clear (we are) not on track to ensure a safe and prosperous world," she added.
The report identified 15 of the most destructive climate disasters of the year, including 10 that each caused $1.5 billion or more in losses, with the damage wrought by wild weather felt everywhere from Australia to India, South Sudan and Canada.
The financial and human costs of climate change are expected to keep soaring unless governments step up efforts to cut emissions and rein in global warming, the report said.
Growing calls from at-risk nations to establish a new fund to help cover climate-linked "loss and damage" in a hotter world must be a "global priority" in 2022, said Nushrat Chowdhury, Christian Aid's climate justice adviser in Bangladesh.
Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based think tank, noted Africa had taken the brunt of some of the most devastating – if not the most expensive – impacts this year, from flooding to drought.
Adow stressed that 2022 "needs to be the year we provide real financial support for those on the frontline of the crisis."
Each year, British charity Christian Aid calculates the cost of weather incidents like flooding, fires and heat waves according to insurance claims and reports the results.
In 2020, it found the world's 10 costliest weather disasters caused $150 billion in damage, making this year's total an increase of 13%.
Christian Aid said the upward trend reflects the effects of human-made climate change and added that the 10 disasters in question also killed at least 1,075 people and displaced 1.3 million.
The most expensive disaster in 2021 was Hurricane Ida which struck the Eastern United States and caused around $65 billion in damages. After crashing into Louisiana at the end of August, it made its way northward and caused extensive flooding in New York City and the surrounding area.
The fifth-strongest hurricane to make landfall in the country killed 95 people and left many with destroyed homes and no power. In addition, a winter storm that hit Texas in February caused a massive power outage and racked up $23 billion in losses, followed by flooding in China's Henan province in July that cost an estimated $17.6 billion.
In China, torrential rains in the central province of Henan caused huge floods in July, with 302 reported dead. The rain that fell in the provincial capital Zhengzhou over three days was nearly equivalent to its annual average, inundating its subway system.
Severe flooding that swept Western and Central Europe in the summer of 2021 caused huge losses of $43 billion and a death toll of more than 240. Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and other countries were hit by extreme rainfall that scientists say was made more likely and frequent by global warming.
Four of the 10 most expensive disasters occurred in Asia, with the costs of floods and typhoons in the region adding up to a combined $24 billion.
Some of the disasters hit quickly and forcefully. Cyclone Yaas, which struck India and Bangladesh in May, led to $3 billion in damage in just a few days and forced more than 1.2 million people to evacuate from their homes in low-lying areas.
Low financial burden, high human toll in most poor countries
The report acknowledged its evaluation mainly covers disasters in rich countries where infrastructure is better insured and that the financial toll of disasters on poor countries is often incalculable.
Some weather extremes have a low financial burden but a high human toll, especially in the most vulnerable places. For example, floods in South Sudan from July to November forced more than 850,000 people from their homes, many of whom were already displaced by conflict or other disasters.
"Some of the most devastating extreme weather events in 2021 hit poorer nations, which have contributed little to causing climate change," the report's press release noted.
In mid-December, the world's biggest reinsurer, Swiss Re, estimated natural catastrophes and extreme weather events caused around $250 billion in damage this year.
It said the total represented a 24% increase over last year and that the cost to the insurance industry alone was the fourth highest since 1970.