Extreme weather linked to climate change caused billions in damage this year, new report finds

'The unprecedented floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires and superstorms we’ve seen in recent years – they are the face of climate change'

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Thursday 27 December 2018 01:18
Sir David Attenborough at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice: Climate change 'our greatest threat'

Extreme weather events linked with climate change, including hurricanes, wildfires and droughts, cost the world billions of pounds over the past year.

Heatwaves tore across the northern hemisphere this summer, and devastating storms struck from the Caribbean to the Philippines.

Besides taking thousands of lives, these events also had a massive economic impact, often for nations that are ill-equipped to shoulder such financial burden.

A report published by Christian Aid has identified 10 of the most expensive natural disasters that struck in 2018, all of which cost at least $1bn (£790m) each.

Among the most expensive events were Hurricanes Florence and Michael, which struck the US and parts of Central America and the Caribbean, and each cost at least $15bn (£12bn).

Other disasters highlighted by the report were floods that struck Kerala in India, drought in Cape Town that brought the city close to running out of water, and wildfires in California that were the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history.

The costs established for these events are likely to be underestimates, as they often only included insured losses and did not take into account long-term costs to productivity.

Scientists are clear these disasters are linked with human-caused climate change.

Increased temperatures can not only make heatwaves more extreme and wildfires more likely, they can also tamper with weather patterns and make storms more intense.

“Climate change is something still often talked about as a future problem,” said Dr Kat Kramer, Christian Aid’s global climate lead.

“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.”

The past year was one of the hottest years on record, and also saw global carbon emissions reach an all time high despite global efforts to move away from fossil fuels.

“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,” said renowned climate scientist Dr Michael Mann of Penn State University.

“The unprecedented floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires and 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.”

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At the recent UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, small island nations and other developing countries particularly vulnerable to climate change made it clear their survival depended on more ambitious global targets to cut emissions.

Due to the costs of dealing with extreme storms and flooding, Ralph Regenvanu, president of the tiny Pacific island nation Vanuatu, said his country was prepared to sue fossil fuel companies to pay for the damage.

One of the major issues to surface at the conference was the controversial question of who should pay for climate change-induced damage and adaptation. Many poorer nations feel industrialised countries must take on more of the burden.

Although the talks did succeed in establishing a “rulebook” for nations to follow as they cut emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement, many observers felt they lacked the urgency and international cooperation required to keep the temperature rise well below 2C as laid out in the accord.

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