Loss and damage are generally discussed in the international climate area in terms of developing county impacts. However, the impacts of loss and damage applied to developed countries, like the United States, also have staggering financial and non-economic implications. This discussion will explore what loss and damage has already occurred in the United States and what projections are for the future.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI) is the nation’s ‘scorecard’ for historical analysis of severe weather and climate events. NCEI is examining the cost of damage and irreplaceable losses like human life through a study called, Billion-Dollar Disaster and Climate Events. The historical study includes – drought and heatwaves, flooding, hail, hurricane, severe weather, tornado outbreak, wildfire, and winter storms/cold waves. NCEI’s work reveals that the U.S. has sustained 332 weather and climate disasters since 1980, where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (including CPI adjustment). The total cost of these $332 billion events exceeds $2.275 trillion U.S. dollars and has cost 15,335 lives (NOAA, 2022).
|1980’s||1990’s||2000’s||2010’s||2021||Last 3 Years (2019-2021)||Last 5 Years
|1980 – present|
|# of Events||31||55||67||128||20||56||89||332|
|Cost in Billions
Figure 1: Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters. This figure compiles weather and climate events with the greatest impact from 1980 to July 11, 2022. Source; National Center for Environmental Information, NOAA (www.ncei.noaa.gov).
Prediction is always inexact because it is inherently uncertain. When assessing loss and damage, it is important to remember that studies vary in methodology, what economic sectors and areas of impact are included, and the choice of metric to report. The result is that findings between reports are not directly comparable.
The Global Change Research Program, as mandated by Congress, produces regular National Climate Assessment (NCA) reports on the state of scientific knowledge about climate change and its effects on human and natural systems in the United States. “A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.”
On 28 March 2019, the NCA report titled, Economic Impacts of Climate Change, stated, “the research literature on physical and economic impacts in the United States remains incomplete in its coverage of the range and magnitudes of potential impacts. Challenges to quantification include, among others:
- The wide variety of economic sectors likely affected by climate change, the complexity of the effects, and the existence of complex feedbacks among sectors.
- Lack of metrics for monetizing some of the non-market effects (e.g., loss of biodiversity, ecosystem damages).
- The long timescales over which some greenhouse gases persist in the atmosphere.
- The difficulty of long-term projecting.
- Uncertainty surrounding possible climatic or societal tipping points, beyond which impacts may accelerate or become irreversible; and
- Uncertainty surrounding the magnitude and efficacy of future adaptation may reduce the economic effects of physical impacts (and incur its costs).
Arriving at a solid financial projection isn’t feasible. However, a report from the 117th Congressional House Committee on Budget titled, “The Costs of Climate Change – Risks to the U.S. Economy and the Federal Budget” (Hayhoe et al, 2019) describes the impacts on the U.S. that are characteristic of loss and damage. The report drew on the 4th National Assessment reporting, that “the evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming,” the consequences of climate change are intensifying, and without substantial global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, “climate change is projected to impose substantial damages on the U.S. economy, human health, and the environment.”
The country is already seeing increases in temperatures, sea level rise, heat waves, wildfires, intense hurricanes and storms, heavy rainfall events, and shifts in precipitation patterns and growing seasons. In fact, over the last three years, the U.S. has experienced disaster costs exceeding $150 billion per year, compared with approximately $16 billion per year (adjusted for inflation) 30 years ago. These changes will become more severe over the coming decades, with communities suffering from more widespread coastal and inland flooding, storm damages, and infrastructure stresses; decreasing agricultural productivity; and the health impacts of extreme heat, reduced air quality, and increased disease exposure.
- The changing climate will increasingly harm people’s lives, homes, and prosperity.
- The economic damages will be large and will span across industries
- Every region of the United States is at risk, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable
- The long-term fiscal health of the federal government is also at risk
- Fiscal responsibility and good governance call for action on climate change
The Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) is currently in development through the United States Global Change Research Program. A draft of the assessment will be available for review in late autumn 2022. Loss and damage are not a focus of the new report. The impact from 1980 to July 11, 2022. Source; National Center for Environmental Information, NOAA(www.ncei.noaa.gov).
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard US Country Manager Julie Raymond