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Over the past 20 years, extreme weather events globally, like hurricanes, floods and heat waves, have cost an estimated $2.8 trillion, according to a new study. The study authors estimate the cost of the extreme weather damages from 2000 to 2019 to average around $143 billion, which breaks down to around $16.3 million per hour.
The researchers analyzed studies that used a methodology known as Extreme Event Attribution (EEA), which connects human-related greenhouse gas emissions and changes in extreme weather events. They compared these analyses to socio-economic costs from extreme weather events to determine how much of the socio-economic costs of extreme weather events are linked to climate change.
Using this method, the team identified a dataset of 185 extreme weather events from 2000 to 2019. During these events, they found a net of 60,951 human deaths that could be linked to climate change.
The researchers noted that human-related climate change could be linked to a net of $260.8 billion in damages from the 185 studied events, or about 53% of total damages. The majority of the climate change-related damages were connected to storms like hurricanes, while 16% of damages were linked to heat waves. Flooding and drought each made up 10% of net damages, and wildfires were linked to 2% of damages.
In total, the researchers found climate-change attributed costs of 185 extreme weather events from 2000 to 2019 to total $2.86 trillion, averaging $143 billion annually. Per year, the costs ranged from the low of $23.9 billion in 2001 to the highest annual cost of $620 billion in 2008. The team published their results in the journal Nature Communications.
While the figures are already significant, they are likely lower than the actual totals. Ilan Noy, study co-author and a professor at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, told The Guardian that for some extreme weather events, data was limited.
“That indicates our headline number of $140bn is a significant understatement,” Noy explained, noting that heat wave data on human deaths was only available in Europe. “We have no idea how many people died from heatwaves in all of sub-Saharan Africa.”
Further, authors Noy and Rebecca Newman, graduate analyst at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, wrote in the study that there are also immeasurable effects from extreme weather, such as trauma, loss of educational access, and job loss that would further increase the costs.
The study authors are encouraging policymakers to use their methodology to help determine how much money to target for a fund that could help countries rebuild after extreme weather events, a plan that was set at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) last year.
“This attribution-based method can also increasingly provide an alternative tool for decision-makers as they consider key adaptations to minimize the adverse impact of climate-related extreme weather events,” the authors concluded in the study. “This type of evidence can also fill, potentially, an evidentiary gap in climate change litigations that are attempting to force both governments and large emitting corporations to change their policies.”
Based in Los Angeles, Bennett is a writer who is passionate about sustainability. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ohio University and holds a certificate in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She also specialized in sustainable agriculture while pursuing her degree.
Hurricane Irene causes Vermont’s worst flooding in 83 years. The storm caused street flooding in Montpelier, VT (Flickr/Jim Griffin, CC0 1.0 Universal)