Extreme weather catastrophes linked to climate change have made 2021 the second-most costly year on record for global insurance firms.

From the devastating destruction caused by Hurricane Ida in the United States to a relentless summer of flash flooding across Europe, 2021 has gone down in history as one of the most expensive years for natural disasters worldwide.

Globally, the total cost of all disasters last year was $280 billion, the fourth-highest on record, according to the world's largest reinsurer Munich Re.

Insurance covered 42.8 percent of the damages, raking up a total $120 billion in losses for companies worldwide. 

This figure was second only to 2017, which saw a record of $146 billion insured losses from disasters, such as hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Each of last year’s top ten most expensive catastrophes cost over $1.5 billion in insured losses, with Hurricane Ida in first place at $65 billion, according to new findings by Christian Aid.

Dr. Kat Kramer, Christian Aid’s climate policy lead, told TRT World the costs of climate change have been grave this year both financially and in “the death and displacement of people around the world.”

“Be it storms and floods in some of the world’s richest countries or droughts and heatwaves in some of the poorest, the climate crisis hit hard in 2021,” said Kramer.

“While it was good to see some progress made at the COP26 summit, it is clear that the world is not on track to ensure a safe and prosperous world.”

So what were the ten worst disasters this year? 

READ MORE: Greenhouse gases 'hit record highs' in 2021

Each of last year’s top ten most expensive catastrophes cost over $1.5 billion in insured losses, with Hurricane Ida in first place at $65 billion, according to new findings by Christian Aid.
Each of last year’s top ten most expensive catastrophes cost over $1.5 billion in insured losses, with Hurricane Ida in first place at $65 billion, according to new findings by Christian Aid. (TRTWorld)

1. Hurricane Ida 

Hurricane Ida was the fifth strongest hurricane to hit the US, leaving one million people without electricity in the state of Louisiana in August 2021.

Ida took the lives of 95 people and cost the world $65 billion in losses, according to Christian Aid. Meanwhile, Munich Re said Ida cost $36 billion in insured losses.

The category 4 hurricane destroyed 75 percent of the houses in the state’s Lafourche Parish, displacing 14,000 residents.

But the tropical storm’s effect was felt across many northeastern states, with flash flooding turning streets into rivers in New York City. 

The 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season was the third-most active season on record, producing 21 storms, according to the country's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

FEMA said its disaster assistance in Louisiana exceeded $2 billion just two months after the hurricane struck.

From warming sea surface temperatures to rising sea levels, hurricanes have been linked to a number of climate change-related influences, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).

“Warmer sea surface temperatures could intensify tropical storm wind speeds, potentially delivering more damage if they make landfall,” explains C2ES.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that as hurricane wind speeds increase up to 10 percent, an increase in Category 4 and 5 hurricanes is likely worldwide.

READ MORE: World requires $5 trillion by 2030 to fight climate crisis

2. European floods

Total financial losses from summer flooding in Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg came in second place on Christian Aid’s report.

In fact, of the top ten disasters listed in the organisation’s report, 50 percent were floods and 30 percent tropical cyclones.

In Europe, the floods claimed 240 lives and caused an economic loss of $43 billion.

The United Nations climate panel (IPCC) said in their latest report that climate change “has detectably influenced” several factors that contribute to flooding, such as heavy rainfall and rising sea levels.

Global warming exacerbates rainfall as the warmer atmosphere is able to hold more water which leads to more intense showers, according to the researchers.

While the European Union has made progress towards decreasing its greenhouse gas emissions, the region’s climate mitigation is labelled “insufficient” according to Climate Action Tracker.

READ MORE: Death toll from disastrous floods in western Europe rises

3. Texas Winter Storm

In the US state of Texas, five million residents were left without power and shortages of basic supplies due to winter storms in February.

Christian Aid estimated damages amounting to $23 billion, while the economic impact could be as high as $200 billion.

Meanwhile, Munich Re reported around $15 billion in insured losses.

At least 215 deaths were recorded from the cold spells, but the number of fatalities is expected to be higher.

Overall, nearly 700 people died due to natural disasters in the US last year, more than twice the amount in 2020, according to the federal weather agency’s latest report.

This year "was marked by extremes across the US, including exceptional warmth, devastating severe weather and the second-highest number of billion-dollar weather and climate disasters on record," said NOAA.

READ MORE: Several dead as millions endure record cold in US

4. Henan floods

At least 302 people were killed in the Chinese province of Henan, which suffered massive record flooding that displaced over a million people in July. 

Hundreds of thousands lost their houses in the torrential rains that caused an estimated $17.6 billion in damages.

Xinxiang, a city in the province, saw a record 26 centimetres of rain in just two hours when the banks of its river Wei burst.

While scientists have warned climate change is worsening flooding around the world, China remains the biggest emitter of fossil fuels, accounting for 30.64 percent of global emissions in 2020. 

Furthermore, the region’s current policies are “insufficient” to meet the Paris agreements, according to the Climate Action Tracker.

READ MORE: Cities in central China flooded as river banks burst amid rains

5. British Columbia floods

Canada’s British Columbia declared a state of emergency in November when it was hit with a record level of rainfall that amounted to $7.5 billion in damages.

All 7,000 residents in the city of Merritt in Vancouver were evacuated after the city witnessed three times more rain than ever before.

Scientists linked heavy rainfall to climate change, as increasing global temperatures cause the atmosphere to hold more water vapour.

At least four people died in the floods that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also blamed on the impacts of climate change.

6. French cold wave

A cold wave devastated agriculture in central France in early April, leading to $5.6 billion in economic losses.

French Minister of Agriculture, Julien Denormandie, described the catastrophe as “probably the biggest agricultural disaster in the beginning of the 21st century.”

More than 80 percent of harvests in Rhone region were destroyed, and 50 percent in Burgundy, according to the local farmers.

A warmer climate also increases the probability of extreme cold snaps, according to a study by the World Weather Attribution, an international organisation that studies ties between extreme weather events and global warming.

Scientists from France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom collaborated on the study in June which found that “human-caused climate change” made the cold snap event “more likely.”

“In a climate with global warming of 2 degrees Celsius (compared to the present day level of global warming of about 1.2 degrees Celsius) growing-period frost events such as observed in 2021 are projected to further intensify by about 0.2 to 0.5 degrees Celsius,” the researchers said.

7. Cyclone Yaas

Cyclone Yaas emerged in the Bay of Bengal in May, causing heavy rainfall and strong storms in India and Bangladesh.

At least 19 people were killed and millions evacuated, while economic losses were estimated at $3 billion.

The Bay of Bengal is particularly vulnerable to climate change.

“My own country of Bangladesh has seen this first hand, suffering at the hands of Cyclone Yaas not to mention the ever growing threat of sea levels rising,” Nushrat Chowdhury, Christian Aid’s Climate Justice Advisor in Bangladesh, told TRT World.

Chowdhury, who attended the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year, said more action is needed to see greenhouse gas emissions fall alongside support for those affected by natural disasters.

“Although it was good to see the issue of loss and damage become a major issue at COP26 it was bitterly disappointing to leave without a fund set up to actually help people who are suffering permanent losses from climate change. Bringing that fund to life needs to be a global priority in 2022,” said Chowdhury.

READ MORE: Cyclone hits eastern India, over a million seek shelter

8. Australian floods

Eastern Australia measured $2.1 billion in damages from flooding in March.

Heavy rains reached historic levels in New South Wales, as around 18,000 people had to be evacuated from the region and two people died.

The flooding comes a year after the country battled unprecedented fires in the same region.

Australian professor Andy Pitman of the University of New South Wales told The New York Times that “climate change and human decisions around building things” were behind the back-to-back weather extremes battering the continent.

“A small change in climate coupled with a small change in landscapes can have a large impact on flood characteristics,” Professor Pitman said.

READ MORE: Fresh round of heavy rainfall worsens Australia floods

9. Typhoon In-fa

Typhoon In-fa, also known as Typhoon Fabian, was the second-wettest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Philippines.

Its financial impact of $2 billion dollars shook China, the Philippines and Japan in July.

The category 2 cyclone, reaching wind speeds up to 176 kilometres per hour, brought heavy rainfall that displaced over 72,000 people.

China's Zhoustan city recorded 61.2 centimetres of rain in just a single day.

Airports and train services were shut down in capital Shanghai and at least six casualties were reported across the Asian region.

The Western Pacific Ocean, like many tropical cyclone-prone regions of the world, is expected to experience even more intense storms over the coming century, according to a new study by ScienceBrief Review.

The study found that rising sea-levels will increase coastal flood risks from tropical cyclones which could lead to more damaging storms. 

In addition, the study warned the increase in future tropical-cyclone precipitation rates may also further elevate the risk of flooding.

READ MORE: East China braces as Typhoon In-Fa approaches

10. Cyclone Tauktae 

Cyclone Tauktae was formed in the Arabian Sea 

It was the strongest cyclone to make landfall in India’s coastal state of Gujarat since 1999, causing $1.5 billion in economic losses throughout the country, Sri Lanka and Maldives.

At least 198 people died and over 200,000 people were displaced in May.

As climate change raises sea temperatures, several scientists warn cyclones are becoming more frequent and severe in the northern Indian Ocean.

India is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and its climate goals are labelled “highly insufficient” by Climate Action Tracker.

Cost of the climate crisis

Many disasters that struck the world in 2021 do not have sufficient data on economic losses suffered by those affected, the Christian Aid report notes.

It also drew attention to the Parana river drought, South Sudan floods that displaced over 850,000 people, the Lake Chad crisis, the Pacific Northwest heatwave that resulted in 1,037 deaths, and the East Africa drought that struck Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

When asked why the report did not include the California wildfires of 2021, the organisation said the fire season spanned over months and was not classified as a singular event.

Their report called for concrete emissions cuts and financial support to aid the world in its battle against worsening natural disasters.

“One glaring omission from the outcome in Glasgow (COP26) was a fund to deal with the permanent loss and damage caused by climate change. This is one issue which will need to be addressed at COP27 in Egypt in 2022,” the report said.

READ MORE: Climate change and global security: What’s at stake?

Source: TRTWorld and agencies