Climate Change-Fueled Weather Disasters: Costs to State and Local Economies

Climate Change-Fueled Weather Disasters: Costs to State and Local Economies (Environmental Defense Fund, 12th August, 2020, 111p)

Looks into the “frequency, severity, damage — and costs — from severe weather events”. The EDF finds a steadily worsening trend due to the effects of man-made climate change. Weather based disasters “pose crushing safety, financial and health risks to families and communities.” The report “documents these trends and what we can expect in the future if we don’t take action.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. “Since 1980, the number of extreme weather events per year has increased fourfold, and the annual direct cost of the disasters has increased fivefold. During this period, the United States has had a total of 258 such weather and climate “billion-dollar” disasters, at a total direct cost of more than $1.75 trillion (NOAA 2020a).
  2. Since 1980, the direct costs of one US disaster category—hurricanes—have increased eleven-fold. Driving factors include climate change and shifting land-use patterns that place more people and properties at risk. The population in counties prone to hurricane damage grew at least 22 percent faster than the overall US population. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that by 2075, 10 million people will be living in hurricane-damaged counties (CBO 2016).
  3. All 50 states have suffered from at least one billion-dollar weather disaster, but in five unlucky states, all seven types of disaster have hit repeatedly. North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas have each endured several billion-dollar hurricanes, severe storms, floods, winter storms, freezes, droughts, and wildfires (NOAA 2020a).
  4. As the world continues to warm, climate change-fueled weather disasters will become more frequent, more severe, and more costly. In the absence of climate action, we can expect a future with many more billion-dollar hurricanes, floods, severe storms, climate-damaging freezes, drought, and wildfires. For every 1°C of warming, future damage is projected to cost roughly 1.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—an amount that, in 2019 terms, would be roughly $257 billion annually. This scenario can be significantly mitigated by substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. Since it is only possible to slow the rate of future warming—but not reverse it, at least in the coming decades—it is crucial to adapt, build resilience, and in some cases, retreat from disaster-prone areas. Adaptation and resilience projects such as elevating buildings or rebuilding coastal wetlands are a worthwhile investment in limiting damage from future disasters. Protecting people from areas that repeatedly get flooded or burned may require relocating rather than continuing to rebuild.”
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