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Natural Disaster Costs Exceed $250 Billion in 2021 and Worse to Come, Scientists Warn

This story includes details on the impacts of climate change that may be difficult for some readers. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this crisis situation here is a list of resources on how to cope with fears and feelings about the scope and pace of the climate crisis.

More than 1.8 billion people experienced record high temperatures and the world’s insurers lost US$120 billion from natural disasters in 2021, the sixth-hottest year since climate data was first recorded in 1850.

“The 2021 disaster statistics are striking because some of the extreme weather events are of the kind that are likely to become more frequent or more severe as a result of climate change,” said Ernst Rauch, chief climate and geo scientist at reinsurance giant Munich Re.

“Many scientists agree that events in 2021 were exacerbated by climate change and that there is more— and worse—to come as the Earth’s atmosphere continues to warm through the next decade and beyond,” writes Reuters.

But already, damages from extreme weather events have caused heavy losses for insurers and uninsured occupants, totalling $280 billion. And just as 2021 was not the hottest year on record, it was also not the costliest—that distinction goes to the hurricane-plagued year of 2017. Still, experts agree that on average, both temperatures and natural disasters will continue increasing. Insurers have been raising their rates in anticipation, and “in some places have stopped providing coverage,” says Reuters.

The overall trend of rising global temperatures is continuing, reports Berkley Earth, even though 2021 was slightly cooler than 2020. The past year’s temperatures were likely lowered by a persistent La Niña weather event that brought down sea surface temperatures. Not all regions are being affected in the same way, however, and 2021 was the hottest year recorded for 25 countries including China, which was 2.0°C above pre-industrial levels.

The year was also notable for being relatively cool in the Arctic Ocean, and for a number of extreme weather events like floods, droughts, wildfires, and “a record-smashing heat wave on the Pacific coast of North America.”

Projections based on historical variability and current conditions suggest that 2022 will be similar to 2021 or slightly warmer, and the continuing La Niña could keep the year similarly cool. However, it is modestly possible that the El Niño/La Niña systems will swing back to warmer conditions in 2022, making 2022 the new warmest recorded year. There is a “nearly certain (>99% likelihood)” chance that 2022 will remain one of the 10 warmest years, but a 50% chance that it will remain below the hottest five.

“Though 2022 is expected to be somewhat cool, that does not mean global warming has stopped. Like 2021, the central estimate for 2022 remains close to the long-term trend,” says Berkley Earth.

“Minor year-to-year fluctuations are entirely natural and may provide the world with a year of slightly less exceptional weather, but over the long term temperatures are expected to continue along a warming trend as long as humans continue to add additional greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.”