We have long known that global warming causes more frequent and intense rainfall, but it has been difficult to quantify the contribution of climate change to storm damage. Now, according to a new study, we have a better idea; Stanford researchers have determined that a third of the financial damage caused by flooding in the US over the past 30 years- USD$75billion- can be attributed to excess rainfall caused by climate change.
What is Happening?
- The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shed light on the ongoing debate on how climate change is contributing to the growing costs of flooding and the heightened risk that US homeowners, builders, banks and insurers face as the planet continues to warm.
- The report, the first to make such a precise estimate of climate change-induced damage, analysed climate and socioeconomic data to quantify the relationship between changing historical rainfall trends and historical flood costs.
- The team says that previous attempts to estimate damage due to climate change on a national scale relied on broad measures such as average rainfall and nationwide flood damage. The Stanford researchers looked at state-level flood damages on a month-by-month basis, which gave them a more granular view of the impacts of extreme precipitation. From there, the team compared their findings with models estimating the contribution of climate change to specific increases in rainfall to help them arrive at the relationship between rainfall and damage.
- The team found that increasing temperatures played a significant role in the rise of flooding costs in the US. They also warned that failure to keep to the targets as outlined in the Paris Agreement could spell even worse extreme disaster events.
- Even in states where long-term rainfall hasn’t changed, the wettest storms have intensified and consequently caused more damage.
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Marshall Burke, associate professor of Earth system science at Stanford and a study co-author, says, “Accurately and comprehensively tallying the past and future costs of climate is key to making good policy decisions. This work shows that past climate change has already cost the US economy billions of dollars, just due to flood damages alone.”
- The researchers say that they hope their analysis will help assess the costs of other disasters fuelled by climate change which will result in better climate adaptation strategies across the country.
- According to CNBC, more than 14 million properties in the US are susceptible to flood damage. However, many homeowners in high-risk areas don’t have flood insurance because federal flood maps that guide insurance demand are often outdated and fail to account for climate.
- In 2020, a record number of hurricanes, wildfires and floods cost the world $210 billion in damage, according to a report by reinsurance company Munich Re.