Hurricane Ida, the ninth named storm in yet another Atlantic season for the books, struck New Orleans and much of Louisiana with deadly winds at 150 mph in the last week of August. But it was far from over.
Ida then turned north and retained plenty of strength to flood the New York subway system, spark seven tornadoes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and turn the inland Philadelphia highways into canals. According to some sources, Ida cost $ 65 billion and 115 lives; including 50 deaths in the less suspicious Northeast alone. The property damage made it the most expensive natural disaster of 2021. In second place was floods in Europe with 43 billion dollars.
Overall, the top 10 natural disasters totaled at least $ 170 billion, according to insurance data, news reports and other sources compiled by UK nonprofit Christian Aid.
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This year, the financial costs of global natural disasters increased by 13% compared to 2020. Christian Aid's annual report tracks largely insured costs and may not take into account all economic losses.
Notably, 2021 started with a curiosity.
Typically temperate Texas suffered from an ice storm in February that weighed on its wind- and natural gas-powered independent electricity company. The citizens crouched in dark, ice-cold houses – at least those lucky enough to find shelter. More than 111 people died in the state, mostly from hypothermia. According to insurance data, the financial burden was over $ 20 billion. Local reports said the total impact could have been $ 200 billion.
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Source: Christian Aid, using insurance figures from Aon and Swiss Re, World Weather Attribution, Reuters, and other nonprofits and news outlets.
Ida's cost, the number of states affected, and its inland advance made it memorable. But it was only one storm within another Atlantic hurricane season that quickly broke the list of first names historically used to distinguish events. It is the first time in two consecutive years that hurricane forecasters have used up the World Meteorological Organization's original list of names: 2020 and 2021.
Steve Bowen, meteorologist and Head of Catstrophe Insight at insurer Aon, said 2021 is expected to be the sixth time that global natural disasters have exceeded the insured loss limit of $ 100 billion. All six times have been held since 2011, and 2021 will be the fourth in five years.
In its own assessment from early December, the world's largest reinsurer, Swiss Re, estimated that natural disasters and extreme weather events caused losses of around 250 billion US dollars in the past year. That was an increase of 24% over the previous year. The cost to the insurance industry alone is the fourth highest since 1970, said Swiss Re.
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Natural disasters are not new, of course, but their frequency, intensity and cost of property damage to developed and developing countries as populations rise and cluster in cities and along coastlines are increasingly being linked to climate change.
For example, the warming of the oceans means that hurricanes suck up more water and carry it inland for longer, resulting in devastating floods. Construction and warning systems have improved for the benefit of citizens and buildings. But the large number of disasters also strains resources: heat, cold, floods, forest fires and drought made unforgettable headlines in 2021.
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It didn't crack the top 10 cost, but unprecedented heat, drought, and, as a result, fires in the western US and Canada were among the more shocking findings of 2021.
In late June and early July, a heat wave set record temperatures in some parts of western North America. It set a Canadian temperature record of 49.6 ° C, well above the previous national record of 45 ° C. Lytton, the village where the record was set, was completely destroyed in wildfire a few days later.
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Read more from MarketWatch on the western US drought.
Christian Aid's report suggests that it is difficult to list personal and property losses in countries that are underinsured or have difficulty keeping such records. Accordingly, the group highlighted the devastation in 2021, albeit without exact dollar amounts, associated with the drought in Africa and Latin America and the floods in South Sudan.
The high profile UN climate change summit in Glasgow in November made progress in key areas, including reaching an agreement to reduce the strong methane gases emitted from natural gas production
among other sources. Methane doesn't last as long as atmosphere-warming carbon emissions, but its shorter time in air can be even more harmful. The Glasgow Conference, known as the Conference of Parties, or COP26, also boasts an increasing number of private interests, particularly from wealthy nations, joining the global push to slow global warming.
Yet pressure remains on the world's largest economies to do more to curb fossil fuel burning. The latest UN emissions gap report suggests that the Paris Agreement's national climate pledges are currently not on track to ensure global warming is kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius as the Paris Pact envisages.
In addition, rich nations have been pushed and reacted slowly to fund the devastation in less affluent economies, which tend to provide most of the natural resources that power the world, yet produce a fraction of the pollution that their more affluent counterparts spit out.
"A blatant failure of the result in Glasgow was a fund to cope with the permanent losses and damage caused by climate change," said Christian Aid in his report, summarizing the costly events. "This is an issue that needs to be addressed at COP27 in Egypt in 2022."