The costs of climate change in 2020? Billions of dollars and thousands of lives

Anna Triponel

January 4, 2021

A new report quantifies the losses from major climate-related weather events in 2020, putting in stark relief the devastating human toll and enormous financial costs of global warming. In a year where even a global pandemic made only a small dent on global emissions, it is clear what harm the world must come to expect if we continue to fall short on climate action.

Anti-poverty nonprofit Christian Aid put out a report calculating the costs of climate change in 2020 and reporting on the devastating human toll of climate events, including deaths and displacement. The report “examines the ten most financially devasting events [linked to climate change in 2020], each of which racked up losses of more than a billion dollars.” The data is based on estimates of insured losses, so Christian Aid expects the actual figures to be even higher. The report also highlights events that were less costly but still enormously damaging to people and to ecosystems.

The results of Christian Aid’s analysis are summarized below:

Most expensive climate events of 2020 (chronological, based on Christian Aid’s estimates)

  1. Australia bushfires (Australia, $5 billion) – 34 people killed, around 65,000 displaced
  2. Locust swarms (East Africa, $8.5 billion)
  3. Windstorms Ciara and Alex (Europe, $5.9 billion) – 30 people killed
  4. Cyclone Amphan (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, $13 billion) – 128 people killed, around 4.9 million displaced
  5. Atlantic Hurricane season (US, Central America, $40 billion) – 400+ people killed, around 200,000 displaced
  6. China floods (China, $32 billion) – 278 people killed, around 3.7 million displaced
  7. India floods (India, $10 billion) – 2,067 people killed, around 4 million displaced
  8. Kyushu floods (Japan, $5 billion) – 82 people killed, around 3.6 million advised to evacuate
  9. Pakistan floods (Pakistan, $1.5 billion) – 410 people killed, around 68,000 displaced
  10. US West Coast fires (US, $20 billion) – 42 people killed, around 500,000 under evacuation orders

Other major disasters (based on Christian Aid’s estimates)

  1. Siberian heatwave (Russia)
  2. South Sudan floods (South Sudan)
  3. South American fires (Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay)
  4. Typhoons Goni and Vamco (Philippines)
  5. Vietnam floods (Vietnam)

Our takeaways

  • Quantifying the losses (both of human lives and livelihoods, and in financial terms) caused by climate change events starkly shows the results of continuing to fall short on climate action
  • Based on the UN Environment Programme’s latest Emissions Gap report, the world is severely lagging on reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to within 1.5°C
  • Even the ambitious commitments made by some governments during December’s Climate Action Summit are not yet enough to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions; experts were cautiously optimistic after the Summit, but have said that more robust action needs to come about at 2021’s COP26 in Glasgow in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change
  • Christian Aid’s report shows that, without meaningful climate action, we can anticipate a rise in climate-related weather events like droughts, flooding and storms that will only exacerbate the current crisis by driving a surge in migration and refugeeism, increasing conflict over resources like land and water, and straining our already fragile ecosystem services

Read the full report here: Christian Aid, Counting the Cost 2020: A Year of Climate Breakdown (December 2020)

“Covid-19 may have dominated the news agenda in 2020, but for many people the ongoing climate crisis compounded that into an even bigger danger to their lives and livelihoods. Be they fires in Australia and the United States, floods in China, India and Japan or storms in Europe and the Americas, almost every part of the globe was touched by climate-related disasters in 2020, with catastrophic results for millions of people.”                      

Christian Aid, Counting the Cost 2020: A Year of Climate Breakdown (December 2020)

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