10 worst climate disasters in 2018 caused $116b in damage

Just a foretaste of what is to come if world fails to rein in planet-warming emissions: Report

Houses sit in floodwater caused by Hurricane Florence in this aerial picture on the outskirts of Lumberton, North Carolina, US, on Sept 17, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

Ten of the worst climate-linked disasters of 2018 - from floods in Japan to hurricanes in the United States - caused at least US$85 billion (S$116 billion) in damage, according to a study released by the charity Christian Aid.

The events left hundreds of people dead and displaced millions in a foretaste of what is to come unless mankind rapidly reins in planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, the charity said.

The report, "Counting the Cost: A year of climate breakdown", identifies the year's 10 most destructive droughts, floods, fires, heatwaves and hurricanes, each of which caused damage of over US$1 billion.

"2018 showed the catastrophic threat that climate change presents the world. And this was just a shadow of what would come if temperatures continue to rise," Dr Kat Kramer, global climate lead for the group, told Agence France-Presse.

The charity compiled the disaster list using official estimates, assessments from insurance firms and other data. It added that the figures were likely to be underestimates.

The most costly were hurricanes Florence and Michael, which hit the US and caused US$32 billion worth of damage between them.

Several events each caused at least US$7 billion in damage, including floods in Japan from late June to mid-July that killed more than 200 people; the Camp Fire in California that killed 85 people; drought and deadly wildfires in Europe; and drought in Australia that caused losses estimated between US$5.8 billion and US$9 billion. Japan also suffered a crippling heatwave right after the floods, killing scores.

Floods in Kerala, India, in August, which killed about 500 people, caused US$3.7 billion in damage, while Typhoon Mangkhut caused losses of up to US$2 billion in the Philippines and China. The September storm killed 127 people in the Philippines.

"All of these disasters are linked with human-caused climate change," said the report, adding that 2018 is the fourth warmest year on record. The 20 warmest years on record have been within the last 22.

"The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle," Dr Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, said in a statement on the study.

"The world's weather is becoming more extreme before our eyes - the only thing that can stop this destructive trend from escalating is a rapid fall in carbon emissions."

The findings come two weeks after a major United Nations climate conference at which nearly 200 nations agreed on a rulebook to implement the 2015 Paris climate accord.

The Paris pact aims to limit global temperature rises to well below 2 deg C from pre-industrial days and aim for 1.5 deg C if possible. But current emission reduction pledges put the world on a path to warm 3 deg C.

As 2018 closes, Australians are enduring another extreme heatwave.

The country is set to record one of its hottest Decembers, the national weather bureau said yesterday, with temperatures up to 16 deg C above the December average.

"We are going to see December records tumbling," Reuters reported meteorologist Diana Eadie as saying, as she expected heat records to be broken. The bureau has issued an "extreme heatwave" warning for parts of the south-east.

Australia's hottest town, Marble Bar in the remote north-west, hit a record 49.1 deg C on Thursday. Some inland areas of Sydney are expected to hit 40 deg C or more at the weekend.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2018, with the headline 10 worst climate disasters in 2018 caused $116b in damage. Subscribe