In a stark example of the continuing toll of climate-related disasters, extreme weather events and other natural disasters killed roughly 10,000 people and caused $280 billion in damage in 2021.
The United States accounted for a high share of natural disaster losses in 2021, with about $145 billion in damages, according to a recent report from the insurance company, Munich Re.
"The images of natural disasters in 2021 are disturbing. Climate research increasingly confirms that extreme weather has become more likely," said Torsten Jeworrek, an executive at the international insurance company. "Societies need to urgently adapt to increasing weather risks and make climate protection a priority."
These losses came from events like the December tornadoes that swept through parts of the Southeast and midwest. Last month dozens of twisters with wind speeds of up to 190 miles per hours tore through six states. In Mayfield, Ky., nearly the entire town was wiped out by one tornado. These storms alone killed 90 people and caused around $5.2 billion in damages.
Meanwhile, the Atlantic hurricane season once again brought devastation to the Gulf Coast and specifically New Orleans, while Hurricane Ida devastated New Jersey and New York, killing 114 people and causing $65 billion in damages.
Last year also saw Texas' deep freeze, which brought much of the state to a standstill as the its brittle energy infrastructure shattered in the cold. That freeze alone (and the state's inability to prepare for it) cost another $30 billion.
“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. Among these are severe storms in the USA, including in the winter half-year, or heavy rain followed by floods in Europe," said Ernst Rauch, Chief Climate and Geo Scientist at Munich Re, and head of the Climate Solutions Unit, in a statement.
"For hurricanes, scientists anticipate that the proportion of severe storms and of storms with extreme rainfall will increase because of climate change. Even though events cannot automatically be attributed to climate change, analysis of the changes over decades provides plausible indications of a connection with the warming of the atmosphere and the oceans. Adapting to increasing risks due to climate change will be a challenge,” he said.