A new report by Christian Aid, Counting the cost 2022: a year of climate breakdown identifies 20 of the most destructive climate disasters of the year. The ten most financially costly events all had an impact of $3 billion or more. Most of these estimates are based only on insured losses, meaning the true financial costs are likely to be even higher, while the human costs are often uncounted.
Among them is Hurricane Ian which struck the US and Cuba in September costing $100 billion and displacing 40,000 people. The drought in Europe heatwave in Europe cost $20 billion while floods in Pakistan killed more than 1,700 people, displaced a further 7 million, and according to World Bank estimates caused $30 billion in economic damage. Due to the difficulty of obtaining insurance, only $5.6 billion of these losses were covered.
While the report focuses on financial costs, which are usually higher in richer countries because they have higher property values and can afford insurance, some of the most devastating extreme weather events in 2022 hit poorer nations, which have contributed little to causing the climate crisis and have the fewest buffers with which to withstand shocks.
In the report, the second list of 10 climate disasters highlights some of these other climate events of 2022 which don’t make the list of insured losses but were just as damaging to communities or posed worrying future threats such as the Arctic and Antarctic heatwaves.
Christian Aid says these extreme events highlight the need for more urgent climate action. They underline the importance of the loss and damage fund recently agreed upon at COP27 to provide financial support to people in developing countries who have suffered huge losses due to a climate crisis they have not caused. The international development charity is calling on world leaders to decide how the fund is managed and get money flowing into it.
The extreme weather events caused severe human suffering from food insecurity, drought, mass displacements, and loss of life. A devastating drought has affected more than 36 million people in East Africa, pushing many to the brink of famine. Whilst people in East Africa have been suffering from drought, in West Africa, 1.3 million people were displaced by floods which killed more than 600 people in Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali, and Niger.
Some of the disasters in 2022 hit rapidly, like February’s Storm Eunice, which set a new UK wind speed record of 122mph, and Hurricane Fiona which struck the Caribbean and Canada in September and caused losses valued at more than $3 billion in just a few days. Other events took months to unfold, like the droughts in Brazil and China which lasted all year and cost $4 billion and $8.4 billion respectively.
No corner of the globe was spared from the costliest climate impacts in 2022 with all six populated continents represented in the top 10.
These impacts were also felt by some of the biggest fossil fuel polluters. Hurricane Ian in the USA, Hurricane Fiona in Canada, and floods in Eastern Australia in February costing $7.5 billion all struck countries with some of the biggest per-person carbon emissions. Elsewhere floods in South Africa, and droughts and floods in China hit two of the world’s biggest coal producers.
Europe, battered by Strom Eunice and baked by the summer drought, is responsible for around 18% of human-caused greenhouse gasses. It has pledged to go Net Zero by 2050 but according to Climate Action Tracker current plans are deemed ‘insufficient’.
The Paris Agreement set the goal of keeping temperature rise to below 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels, yet the outcome from the COP27 climate summit in Egypt does not currently leave the world on track to meet this goal which is why much more urgent action is required.
Christian Aid CEO, Patrick Watt, said: “Having ten separate climate disasters in the last year that each cost more than $3 billion points to the financial cost of inaction on the climate crisis. But behind the dollar figures lie millions of stories of human loss and suffering. Without major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, this human and financial toll will only increase. The human cost of climate change is seen in the homes washed away by floods, loved ones killed by storms, and livelihoods destroyed by drought. This year was a devastating one if you happened to live on the front line of the climate crisis”.
Some of these catastrophes hit with blinding speed, others unfolded – such as the terrible drought in East Africa – over many months. The UK did not escape the ravages of climate change in 2022 with both Storm Eunice and the summer heatwave taking their toll. These set both a new UK windspeed record and the highest temperature record. This underlines the need for policies to accelerate the transition to net zero and the folly of the decision to open a new coal mine in Cumbria.
Mr. Shouro Dasgupta, Researcher at RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics and the Environment and a Lecturer at Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, said:
“Both the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are increasing due to climate change, resulting in unprecedented economic and social impacts. In 2022, floods in Pakistan and China, heatwaves in India and Pakistan, droughts in China and Europe, and several tropical cyclones in Asia and America resulted in significant economic damages, exacerbating the direct health impacts. One of the major impacts of climate change is food security. Climate change is already undermining global food security, exacerbating the effects of COVID-19, geopolitical, energy, and cost-of-living crises. The increasing frequency of heatwaves, due to climate change, resulted in an estimated 98 million more people suffering from moderate or severe food insecurity in 2020 compared to the 1981–2010 average, according to the recent Lancet Countdown 2022 report. Given the increased frequency and intensity of extreme events such as heatwaves and droughts in 2022, the impacts on food security are likely to be even higher.”
Hayley Fowler, Professor of Climate Change Impacts in the School of Engineering at Newcastle University, said:
“The number of extreme weather events we have seen across the globe in both 2021 and again in 2022 should be a wake-up call to the international community. The deadly heatwaves that have fuelled blazes and caused transport disruptions in Europe, the US, and China and have caused massive flooding and landslides in other places have one thing in common: a peculiar shape in the jet stream dubbed “wavenumber 5”.
“In July and early August 2022, as well as summer 2021, a global pattern of five big waves circled the world, leading to simultaneous heatwaves across continents and coincident floods where low-pressure centers occurred. This pattern, known as wavenumber 5, can persist for weeks, causing hot areas to stay hot for a long time, and connected wet areas to be very wet. Temperatures have already risen by about 1.2C since pre-industrial times due to human activity – warmer air can hold more moisture, making extreme rainfall events and flooding more likely, as well as hotter heatwaves”.
The jet stream itself also appears to be changing its behavior over the long term and slowing down in summer and becoming ‘wavier’ — which makes this blocking pattern more likely; with the rapid warming of the Arctic region the likely cause of this slowdown. Climate change is thus making extreme weather events more intense when they do occur, and more persistent. This makes them more expensive and impactful, and men’s managing their effects on communities is a huge challenge.
Mohamed Adow, Director of Nairobi-based energy and climate think tank, Power Shift Africa, said: “It’s sobering to see the full extent of climate breakdown the world has suffered from in 2022. Whether it be cyclones and floods, or droughts and heatwaves it is clear that the crisis is getting worse. This report shows, in the starkest terms, why urgent climate action is so vital in 2023. We need to see the phasing out of fossil fuels, an acceleration of renewable energy, and greater support for the vulnerable. Here in Africa, we are seeing the suffering that climate change is causing to those that have done the least to cause it. 2023 needs to be the year we all wake up and start to put the world on the right track.”
Nushrat Chowdhury, Christian Aid Climate Justice Policy Advisor in Bangladesh, said: “The creation of the loss and damage fund at the COP27 climate summit was a huge breakthrough for people living on the front lines of this crisis. This report shows just how bad it is needed and the urgency with which we need to see it up and running. The people flooded in Pakistan or victims of Cyclone Sitrang in my country of Bangladesh need this support to rebuild their lives. Many people in the global south dealing with these disasters cannot afford insurance to cover their losses and they often can’t rely on the state to act as a safety net. The fact they have done almost nothing to cause the climate emergency is why it is so unfair they are left to suffer without support. We must see that change in 2023.”