Billion-dollar weather disasters fueled by climate change are becoming more frequent and more devastating to state and local economies, according to a report by Datu Research commissioned by Environmental Defense Fund.
The report, Climate Fueled Weather Disasters: Costs to State and Local Economies, quantifies the economic cost of specific extreme weather disasters on Americans today, including in specific states, as well as likely future costs if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated and global temperatures continue to climb. Each of the weather events detailed in the report caused damages equaling or exceeding $1 billion in states such as Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Iowa, among others.
“COVID-19 and recent climate disasters have shown that we must step up investment in preparedness now, instead of waiting for the next crisis to hit,” said Elgie Holstein, Senior Director for Strategic Planning, Environmental Defense Fund. “Mounting climate impacts are leading to a perfect storm, where federal, state, and local governments will be staggered by mounting disaster assistance demands while simultaneously trying to recover from deep recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. Faster action to reduce climate change and more proactive investment in resilience are crucial to safeguard our future—and to help places and people adapt and succeed in the face of tremendous change.”
According to the report, which consolidates information from leading journals, government datasets and other key sources, both the incidence and cost of extreme weather events are on the rise. Since 1980, the United States has seen a four-fold increase in the annual number of severe weather disasters, including hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other events examined in this report. Those costs are putting a growing strain on the ability of federal and state agencies to respond to disasters at the same time that they are fighting to prevent the country from plunging further into a long-term, deep recession. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that since 2005, the federal government, including FEMA, has spent at least $450 billion on disaster assistance.
The report and accompanying documents include recommendations and lessons learned that can help ensure states have the resources they need to handle these disasters in the years to come and can rebuild better. The fiscal pressures are particularly acute this year: States are facing record budget shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with some anticipating revenue losses of over 20% and making budget cuts of equal magnitude to address this shortfall.
As Congress debates how to recover from the pandemic and assist states, businesses, and the nation’s workers, it must simultaneously invest in efforts to mitigate costly climate-fueled disasters.
Such steps include:
- Protecting vulnerable communities and building resilience by emphasizing preservation and restoration of natural features along our coasts and prioritizing pre-disaster mitigation. This can include creating a Resilient Communities Loan fund program and expanding current FEMA efforts such as the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program.
- Committing to immediate climate action to move the United States to a 100% clean economy no later than 2050, including through investment in cleaner transportation, manufacturing, buildings, energy and more.
Even in the depths of a global pandemic and recession, climate change has not stopped. The atmosphere is still warming, sea levels are still rising and storms are still brewing. As the report makes clear, the need for government aid is far outpacing available resources, and the problem is only getting worse. The time for action is now.
Read the report and accompanying materials on EDF’s website.
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