Climate change drove series of billion-dollar disasters in 2019 – report

Climate change-related extreme weather hit every populated continent in 2019, harming and displacing millions of people and costing billions, Christian Aid has said.

A report from the charity identifies 15 of the most destructive droughts, floods, fires, typhoons and cyclones of the past year, which each caused damage of more than a billion US dollars (£760 million).

All of the disasters identified in the Counting the Cost report are linked with human-caused climate change, Christian Aid said.

In some cases, studies have shown that climate change made them more likely or stronger, such as Cyclone Idai in Africa and floods in India and the US.

In others, the event was the result of shifts in weather patterns, such as higher temperatures and reduced rainfall making wildfires more likely, or warmer water temperatures that “supercharged” tropical storms.

Of the 15 events identified, seven cost more than 10 billion US dollars (£7.6 billion) each, the charity said, and warned that the figures were likely to be an underestimate as in some cases they only include insured losses.

The most financially costly disasters identified by the report were wildfires in California, which caused 25 billion US dollars (£19 billion) in damage, followed by Typhoon Hagibis in Japan, which cost 15 billion US dollars (£11 billion).

Floods in the American Midwest in March cost 12.5 billion US dollars (£9.5 billion) and China was hit by flooding between June and August that cost 12 billion US dollars (£9 billion).

The events with the greatest loss of life were floods in northern India which killed 1,900 and Cyclone Idai, which killed 1,300, Christian Aid said.

Cyclone Fani in India and Bangladesh in May displaced 3.4 million people, the report said.

The UK did not escape the weather extremes, with Storm Eberhard hitting the country along with Belgium and the Netherlands in early March, before moving east to affect Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Ukraine.

The storm caused damage across Europe costing one billion to 1.7 billion US dollars (£760 million to £1.3 billion).

Analysis suggests severe wind storms will be increasingly likely to hit Europe as temperatures rise, and in the UK insurance claims from these kind of storms could increase by 50% in some parts of the country.

Waves crash against the pier wall at Seaham Lighthouse on the County Durham coast
Waves crash against the pier wall at Seaham Lighthouse on the County Durham coast (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Next year, the UK is set to host key UN climate talks in Glasgow in November.

At the talks, countries will be under pressure to increase their ambition in cutting greenhouse gases, to meet promises under the international Paris Agreement on climate change to curb temperature rises to 1.5C or 2C to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

Dr Kat Kramer, Christian Aid’s global climate lead and report co-author, said: “2020 is going to be a huge year for how the world responds to the growing climate crisis.

“We have the biggest summit since the Paris Agreement was signed five years ago taking place in Glasgow, where countries must commit to further cut their emissions in line with the 1.5C temperature limit, and boost funding for poor countries suffering from the kind of impacts seen in this report.

“Last year, emissions continued to rise, so it’s essential that nations prepare these new and enhanced pledges for action to the Paris Agreement as soon as possible.”

Professor Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Centre at Pennsylvania State University, said: “If anything, 2019 saw even more profound extreme weather events around the world than last year, including wildfires from the Amazon through to the Arctic, devastating out-of-season, simultaneous wildfires in California and Australia, winter heatwaves and devastating superstorms.

“With each day now we are seemingly reminded of the cost of climate inaction in the form of ever-threatening climate change-spiked weather extremes.”

Here are the 15 climate-related extreme weather events identified in the report:

– January: Argentina and Uruguay, floods – 2.5 billion US dollars, five killed;

– January-February: Australia, floods – 1.9 billion US dollars, three killed;

– March: Europe, Storm Eberhard – 1-1.7 billion US dollars, four killed;

– March: Southern Africa, Cyclone Idai – two billion US dollars,  1,300 killed;

– March-June: Midwest and South US, floods – 12.5 billion US dollars, three killed;

– March-April: Iran, floods – 8.3 billion US dollars, 78 killed;

– May: India and Bangladesh, Cyclone Fani – 8.1 billion US dollars, 89 killed;

– June-August: China, floods – 12 billion US dollars, 300 killed;

– June-October: North India, floods – 10 billion US dollars, 1,900 killed;

– August: China, Typhoon Lekima – 10 billion US dollars, 101 killed;

– September-October: Japan, Typhoon Faxai (5-9 billion US dollars, three killed) and Hagibis (15 billion US dollars, 98 killed);

– September: North America, Hurricane Dorian – 11.4 billion US dollars, 673 killed;

– September: Spain, floods – 2.4 billion US dollars, seven killed;

– September: Texas, US, Tropical Storm Imelda, eight billion US dollars, five killed.

– October-November: California, US, fires – 25 billion US dollars, three killed.

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