Costs of extreme weather driven by climate change mounts, Christian Aid warns

Study cites 10 extreme weather events, each causing over $1.5bn in damage

The costs associated with extreme weather events exacerbated by global warming continued to escalate during 2021 while the world's poorest countries often suffered most, according to Christian Aid.

Its report estimating the cost of “ a year of climate breakdown”, identifies 15 of the most destructive climate disasters of the year, “and underscores the need for wealthy, high-emitting countries to deliver on unmet pledges of financial support for the world’s poorest countries”.

Ten of those events cost $1.5 billion or more. Most of these estimates are based only on insured losses meaning the true financial costs are likely to be even higher.

Among them is Hurricane Ida which struck the US in August costing $65 billion and killing 95 people. July floods in Europe cost $43 billion and killed 240 people while floods in China's Henan province caused $17.5 billion of destruction, killed 320 and displaced over a million people.


While the report focuses on financial costs, which are usually higher in richer countries because of higher property values and can afford insurance, some of the most devastating extreme weather events in 2021 hit poorer countries.

“In addition to the financial cost, these extreme weather events have caused severe human suffering from food insecurity, drought and extreme weather events causing mass displacements and loss of life,” it concludes.


South Sudan experienced the worst flooding in nearly 60 years which has so far impacted over 850,000 people while East Africa continues to be ravaged with drought, "highlighting the injustice of the climate crisis". In Kenya alone, the drought has pushed over 2 million people into a food crisis.

In South Sudan, through local partners, Christian Aid is providing emergency life-saving support to flood affected families in Jonglei and Unity State; two provinces facing a worsening food crisis because of the impact of flooding on their harvests and livestock.

In Marsabit county in northern Kenya where drought has left over 160,000 people in need of emergency support, Christian Aid's local partner has supported a women's group harvest and sell fodder, enabling them to both earn an income and ensuring fodder is available to the wider farming community, helping them to feed their livestock during the dry seasons as well as periods of drought.

Some of the disasters hit rapidly, like Cyclone Yaas, which struck India and Bangladesh in May and caused losses valued at $3 billion in just a few days. Other events took months to unfold, like the Paraná river drought in Latin America, which has seen the river, a vital part of the region's economy, at its lowest level in 77 years and impacted lives and livelihoods in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.

Four of the 10 most costly events took place in Asia, with floods and typhoons costing a combined $24 billion. But the impact of extreme weather was felt all over the world. Australia suffered floods in March which displaced 18,000 people and saw damage worth $2.1 billion while floods in Canada's British Colombia led to $7.5 billion in damage and 15,000 people having to flee their homes.

Worryingly such climate devastation is set to continue without action to cut emissions, the report notes. Insurer Aon warns that 2021 is expected to be the sixth time global natural catastrophes have crossed the $100 billion insured loss threshold. All six have happened since 2011 and 2021 will be the fourth in five years.

The report highlights slow developing crises such as the drought in the Chad Basin which has seen Lake Chad shrink by 90 per cent since the 1970s and threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions who live in the region.

Financial support

These extreme events highlight the need for concrete climate action, it adds. The Paris Agreement set the goal of keeping temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels, "yet the outcomes from Cop26 in Glasgow do not currently leave the world on track to meet this goal which is why much more urgent action is required".

It’s also vital that in 2022 more is done to provide financial support to the most vulnerable countries, in particular the creation of a fund to deal with the unavoidable loss and damage suffered in poor countries caused by climate change.

Christian Aid Ireland's head of policy and advocacy Conor O'Neill,said: "Right through Cop26 in Glasgow, poorer developing countries urged wealthy, high-polluting countries like Ireland to fully deliver much needed and promised levels of financial support to help them adapt to the climate crisis, as well as compensate them for the costs of unavoidable losses of incomes, homes, lives and territory driven by rising global temperatures.

These calls went largely unmet and the issue was kicked to touch leaving it to Cop27 in Egypt next year, he added. "These climate disasters show the havoc the climate crisis is already wreaking, but it is the world's poorest countries, who have done least to cause this crisis, who suffer disproportionately. They also have the least resources to adapt and rebuild."

Ireland and other wealthy high-emitters must use 2022 as a fresh slate to launch more ambitious climate action and increased financial support to developing countries, Mr O’Neill said. This “represents our fair share, to help them adapt to climate change without adding to unsustainable levels of debt”.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times