World battered by billion-pound disasters linked to climate change in 2020

Major events with huge price tags include storms Ciara and Alex which hit the UK and Europe this year, a Christian Aid report has shown.

World battered by billion-pound disasters linked to climate change in 2020

The world has been battered by a series of billion-pound disasters linked to climate change from wildfires to storms this year, a report has warned.

Aid agency Christian Aid has identified 10 major climate-fuelled catastrophes, which each cost 1.5 billion US dollars (£1.1 billion) or more – including Storm Ciara, which hit the UK and Europe in February.

Storm Ciara, which cost 2.7 billion US dollars (£2 billion) in total for Europe, caused deaths, flooding and power cuts, and damaged water supplies in the UK as it battered the country with high winds and heavy rainfall.

More extreme rainfall in Storm Ciara, along with Storm Alex, which hit the UK and Europe in October, causing flooding and power cuts in Britain as record amounts of rain fell, is an inevitable consequence of climate change, experts have said.

Aerial view of a van stuck in flood water near Buckingham as Storm Alex brought heavy rain (Steve Parsons/PA).
A van stuck in floodwater near Buckingham as Storm Alex brought heavy rain (Steve Parsons/PA)

The costs of the storms’ damage in Europe is dwarfed by some of the other major disasters identified in the report, which in many cases hit countries even as they were trying to battle coronavirus.

Scientists warn that rising global temperatures are already increasing the risks of more extreme weather events such as storms and heatwaves, and their impacts such as wildfires.

A record Atlantic hurricane season which battered the US, Central America and the Caribbean between May and November cost more than 400 lives and racked up 41 billion dollars (£31 billion) in damages, the Christian Aid report said.

The US was also hit by a record-breaking fire season which ravaged the west coast in the summer and autumn, costing a further 20 billion dollars (£15 billion).

Australia also saw devastating wildfires at the beginning of the year, fuelled by extreme drought and high temperatures brought on by climate change, which cost around five billion US dollars (£3.7 billion).

Elsewhere in the world, Cyclone Amphan struck the Bay of Bengal in May and caused losses valued at 13 billion US dollars (£9.7 billion) in just a few days while floods in China over several months cost 32 billion US dollars (£24 billion).

Both killed scores of people and displaced millions from their homes.

Locust swarms in east Africa after extreme rains destroyed crops, trees and pastures, and threatened food security, with an estimated cost of 8.5 billion US dollars (£6.4 billion).

While the events identified in the report focus on insured losses which tend to be more extensive and higher in richer countries, extreme weather events can be just as devastating in poorer, more vulnerable countries even though the price tag is lower, Christian Aid said.

Report author Dr Kat Kramer, from Christian Aid, said that for millions of people in vulnerable parts of the world climate breakdown was compounding the problems of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The good news is that, like the vaccine for Covid-19, we do know how to fix the climate crisis. We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, boost clean energy investment and help those who are suffering on the front line.

“Whether it be floods in Asia, locusts in Africa or storms in Europe and the Americas, climate change has continued to rage in 2020.

“It is vital that 2021 ushers in a new era of activity to turn this tide.”

She said the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House in the US, social movements calling for urgent action, post-Covid green recovery investment and a crucial UN climate summit hosted by the UK in November, “there is a major opportunity for countries to put us on a path to a safe future”.

In chronological order, the 10 extreme events driven by climate change that each caused more than £1 billion are:

January – Australia bushfires, five billion US dollars (£3.7 billion)

January-June – East Africa locust swarms, 8.5 billion US dollars (£6.4 billion)

February and October – Europe windstorms 5.9 billion US dollars (£4.1 billion)

May – Bay of Bengal Cyclone Amphan, 13 billion US dollars (£9.7 billion)

May-November – US, Central America, Caribbean hurricanes, 41 billion US dollars (£31 billion)

June-October – China floods, 32 billion US dollars (£24 billion)

June-October – India floods, 10 billion US dollars (£7.5 billion)

July – Japan floods, 8.5 billion US dollars (£6.4 billion)

July-September – Pakistan floods, 1.5 billion US dollars (£1.1 billion)

July-November – West coast US fires, 20 billion dollars (£15 billion).

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