In 2019, 15 climate disasters wreaked havoc around the world causing damage of more than $1 billion each

From Southern Africa to North America and from Australia and Asia to Europe, floods, storms, and fires brought chaos and destruction; The most financially costly disasters are wildfires in California, which caused $25 billion in damage, followed by Typhoon Hagibis in Japan ($15 billion)


                            In 2019, 15 climate disasters wreaked havoc around the world causing damage of more than $1 billion each
(Getty Images)

Extreme weather, fuelled by climate change, struck every corner of the globe in 2019, killing thousands, and displacing millions and causing billions of dollars of economic damage.

Researchers have identified 15 of the most destructive weather events of 2019 -- droughts, floods, fires, typhoons, and cyclones -- each of which caused damage of over $1 billion. At least five of these events cost more than $10 billion each. The US tops the list, with China, India, and Japan all close behind, says the report by UK charity Christian Aid.

“This report is an important warning about the substantial current economic and human costs of climate change, costs that scientists tell us will just continue to rise unless we stop burning fossil fuels,” says Dr. Doreen Stabinsky, professor of global environmental politics at the College of the Atlantic, in the analysis.

Dr. Stabinsky adds, “It is no wonder youth around the world are taking to the streets to demand that we write a different story towards a better future – a story where we take urgent and immediate actions now to stop the emissions that are leading to these devastating disasters.”

The most financially costly disasters identified by the report were wildfires in California, which caused $25 billion in damage, followed by Typhoon Hagibis in Japan ($15 billion) and floods in the American mid-west ($12.5 billion) and China ($12 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.

Counting the cost: A year of climate breakdown. (Source: Christian Aid)

According to the researchers, the financial figures are likely to be underestimated as they often show only insured losses and do not always take into account other financial costs, such as lost productivity and uninsured losses.

“By no means do the financial figures show the whole picture – or even the most important parts of it. The report also provides estimates for the number of people killed in each event. The overwhelming majority of the deaths were caused by just two events, in India and southern Africa - a reflection of how the world’s poorest people pay the heaviest price for the consequences of climate change. In contrast, the financial cost was greatest in richer countries: Japan and the US suffered three of the four most costly events,” the findings state.

Each of the billion-dollar disasters in the report has a link with human-induced climate change. In some cases, scientists have identified the physical mechanism by which climate change influenced the particular event or calculated the extent of its relationship with human-caused warming. In others, the events are consistent with what scientists have warned will happen as the planet warms, says the report. 

The financial cost was greatest in richer countries: Japan and the US suffered three of the four most costly events. (Getty Images)

According to the research team, for example, after a quiet start to the fire season in the west of the US, several major fires broke out in October. The largest was the Kincade Fire, which burned over 30,000 hectares before it was contained in early November. It was the largest fire in Sonoma County’s history. Other notable fires around the same time were the Saddleridge, Tick and Getty Fires.

“At least three people were killed by the fires and the economic costs have been estimated at over $25 billion, meaning they may have been the most expensive disasters of 2019. As well as direct damage from the fires, millions of people were left without power as California’s electricity utility, PG&E, shut down its network to avoid sparking fires. It had been found responsible for starting devastating fires in previous years due to its failure to maintain towers and wires,” says the study.

The researchers say there is a clear connection between climate change and the increasing threat of fires in California. “According to a study published in July, the area of California burned each year has increased fivefold since 1972 and nearly all of this increase was the consequence of high temperatures drying out forests and creating more fuel for wildfires. Of the 20 largest fires in California’s recorded history, 15 have occurred since 2000,” says the team.

Stating that 2019 was not the new normal and that the climate change will further worsen, the experts have called for minimizing the impacts through rapid emission cuts. 

The researchers recommend that countries should upgrade their national climate plans that make up the Paris agreement. According to them, countries must also commit to a net-zero emissions target, the date at which they will stop making the climate crisis worse. Globally this needs to be net-zero by around 2050, they say.

“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,” says report co-author, Dr. Kat Kramer, Christian Aid’s global climate lead.

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