A new study has estimated the cost of the damages caused by the climate crisis at $16m (£13m) an hour between 2000 and 2019.
New Zealand researchers have measured the economic costs of extreme weather events linked to climate change. Their research has found that these occurrences have caused at least $2.8tn (£2.3tn) in damage over the past 20 years, The Guardian has reported.
Although the figures vary drastically year-on-year, the scientists found that storms, floods, heatwaves and droughts have resulted in an average cost of $140bn (£115bn) a year from 2000 to 2019. The latest data shows $280bn in costs in 2022.
The researchers obtained this figure by combining data on how much global heating worsened extreme weather events with economic data on losses. Two-thirds of the damage costs were related to the loss of life, while a third was due to property and other assets being destroyed.
The study also found that 1.2 billion people have been affected by climate change and that the climate crisis has cost $16m (£13m) an hour for the past 20 years. Storms, such as Hurricane Harvey and Cyclone Nargis, were responsible for two-thirds of the climate costs, while 16 per cent was caused by heatwaves and 10 per cent by floods and droughts.
“The headline number is $140bn a year and, first of all, that’s already a big number,” said Professor Ilan Noy of the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. “Secondly, when you compare it to the standard quantification of the cost of climate change [using computer models], it seems those quantifications are underestimating the impact of climate change.”
The team stressed that these figures are likely to be underestimated, as they lacked accurate data regarding the impact of climate-related weather events in low-income countries. Additionally, certain costs such as those from crop yield declines and sea level rise were also not included.
As an example, Noy explained that heatwave death data was only available in Europe: “We have no idea how many people died from heatwaves in all of sub-Saharan Africa.”
The researchers also identified the years with the highest overall climate costs: 2003, when a heatwave struck Europe; 2008, when Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar; and 2010, when drought impacted Somalia and a heatwave hit Russia.
The damages to property were higher in 2005 and 2017 when hurricanes hit the US.
These estimates could be used to calculate the amount needed for loss and damage funds, which aim to compensate developing countries for the emissions caused by industrialised nations.
The creation of loss and damage funds that would help developing nations address the environmental impacts of climate change was central to the UN’s COP27 climate summit in Egypt. Although the nations agreed on the need for such a fund, the details regarding who would provide the funds – and how – were not agreed upon.
Last November, Christian Aid published a report stating that current climate policies put the world on track for 2.7°C of global warming by the end of the century. The organisation warned that this could cause “economic devastation in Africa”, as it would lead to an average 20 per cent hit to African countries’ expected GDP by 2050, and 64 per cent by 2100.
In June, researchers at the University of Leeds concluded that industrialised nations could be liable to pay a total of $170tn in compensation or reparations by 2050 to ensure climate change targets are met.
The researchers’ findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.
E+T’s latest issue Forecast: Catastrophe looks at the impact of climate change on the world and ways to prevent it.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.