The world’s 10 costliest weather disasters in 2020 had $ 150 billion in insured losses, surpassing the 2019 figure and reflecting a long-term impact of global warming, according to a new report.
The same disasters claimed at least 3,500 lives and displaced more than 13.5 million people.
From the wildfires in Australia to a record number of Atlantic hurricanes through November, the true cost of the year’s weather calamities was much higher because most of the losses were uninsured.
Not surprisingly, the burden fell disproportionately on poor nations, according to the annual tally by charity Christian Aid, titled Count the Cost of 2020: A Year of Climate Crisis.
Only 4% of economic losses from extreme weather-affected events in low-income countries were insured, compared with 60% in high-income economies, according to the report, citing a study last month in The Lancet.
“Whether it’s floods in Asia, locusts in Africa or storms in Europe and the Americas, climate change has continued to rage in 2020,” said Kat Kramer, Christian Aid’s climate policy leader.
Extreme weather disasters, of course, have affected humanity long before man-made global warming began to affect the planet’s climate system.
But more than a century of temperature and precipitation data, along with decades of satellite data on hurricanes and sea level rise, have left no doubt that warming of the Earth’s surface temperature is amplifying its impact.
Massive tropical storms, known as hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones, are now more likely, for example, to be stronger, last longer, carry more water, and wander beyond their historic range.
The record number of named Atlantic hurricanes in 2020, with at least 400 deaths and $ 41 billion in damage, suggests the world could see more such storms as well.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) had to use Greek symbols after running out of letters in the Latin alphabet.
Intense summer floods in China and India, where the monsoon season brought abnormal amounts of rain for the second year in a row, are also consistent with projections for how the weather will affect rainfall.
Five of the costliest extreme weather events of 2020 were related to the unusually rainy monsoon in Asia.
“The 2020 flood was one of the worst in the history of Bangladesh, more than a quarter of the country was under water,” said Shahjahan Mondal, director of the flood and water management institute at the University of Engineering and Technology in Bangladesh. Bangladesh.
The wildfires that burned record areas in California, Australia and even Russia’s Siberian interior, much of it within the Arctic Circle, are also consistent with a warmer world and are projected to worsen as temperatures rise.
The planet’s average surface temperature has risen by at least 1.1 degrees Celsius on average compared to the late 1800s, with much of that warming occurring in the last half century.
The 2015 Paris agreement obliges the nations of the world to collectively limit global warming to “well below” 2 ° C, and even 1.5 ° C if possible.
A landmark report in 2018 from the UN IPCC’s climate science advisory panel showed that 1.5 ° C is a safer threshold, but the probability of staying below it has become extremely small, according to many experts.
“Ultimately, the impacts of climate change will be felt through the extremes, not the average changes,” said Sarah Perkins-Kilpatrick, Senior Lecturer at the Center for Climate Change Research at the University of New South Wales.
If the increasing frequency and intensity of natural weather disasters is consistent with model projections, the new field of attribution science can now put a number on the probability that such an event is due to global warming.
The record-breaking wildfires that destroyed 20% of Australia’s forests and killed tens of millions of wild animals in late 2019 and early 2020, for example, were at least 30% more likely, according to research led by Friederike Otto of the University of Oxford. institute of change.
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