Report: Extreme weather cost billions in damages in 2020

Wildfires in the Western United States incurred more than $20 billion in damages and claimed the lives of more than 40 people. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
Wildfires in the Western United States incurred more than $20 billion in damages and claimed the lives of more than 40 people. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 28 (UPI) -- A new report released Monday on the cost of climate change-driven extreme weather said 10 of 2020's most expensive events caused more than $140 billion in damages.

The report, Counting the Cost of 2020: A Year of Climate Breakdown, by charity organization Christian Aid identified the 10 events, each of which inflicted damages of at least $1.5 billion, with all but one costing more than $5 billion.


The report said the figures were based on insured losses, meaning the actual financial costs are expected to be higher.

The number of lives lost to the same 10 events was at least 3,470, it said.

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Six of the 10 events, it said, occurred in Asia with five associated with an unusually wet monsoon season.

The costliest nature disaster of 2020 was, however, the hurricanes that ripped through the United States and Central America, claiming more than 400 lives and causing some $41 billion in damages.

The record-setting Atlantic hurricane season from June to the end of November saw 30 named storms, 12 of which made landfall in the continental United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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The Category 4 Hurricane Laura, which made landfall in Louisiana in August, killed 77 people and had an estimated cost of more than $16 billion, and was followed two weeks later by Hurricane Sally that caused eight deaths and more than $6.25 billion in damages.

Though the highest number of lives lost at 153 was to Hurricane Eta that slammed Central America.

China suffered the second costliest event of 2020 with floods that began in June but continued through October, incurring some $32 billion in damages and nearly 300 lives, followed by wildfires that scorched millions of acres of land across the Western United States at a cost of $20 billion.

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However, the report noted that wealthy nations incurred higher monetary loses compared to poorer countries due to being home to more valuable and insured real estate but extreme events were more likely to hit low-income countries.

"Whether it be floods in Asia, locusts in Africa or storms in Europe and the Americas, climate change has continued to rage in 2020," Kat Kramer, the report's author and Christian Aid's climate policy lead, said in a statement.

The fourth costliest event was Cyclone Amphan in India's Bay of Bengal, which hit fast in May, causing $13 billion in damages in a few days.

Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, said this year was "exceptionally warm" and saw record temperatures in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.

"These high temperatures had the characteristics of marine heat waves that might have led to the rapid intensification of the pre-monsoon cyclones Amphan and Nisarga," Koll said.

Flooding in India was the fifth costliest event at some $10 billion but it killed more than 2,000 people.

Christian Aid said the report highlights the need for urgent action to curb climate change, calling on countries to commit to new targets to ensure they hit their obligations under the Paris Agreement, which set the goal of keeping global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius but preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.

Kramer said next year poses significant opportunity to "turn this tide" with President-elect Joe Biden to be in the White House, social movements calling for action on climate change and coronavirus policies shifting toward green recovery plans.

"There is a major opportunity for countries to put us on a path to a safe future," Kramer said.

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