Science Shows 2021 One of the Deadliest, Costliest Years for US Extreme Weather, Climate Disasters

Statement by Dr. Rachel Cleetus at the Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Jan 10, 2022

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WASHINGTON—The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today released its annual report tallying the toll of extreme weather and climate disasters in the United States for the previous year. According to the agency, 688 lives were lost in 20 separate disasters that each reported damages of $1 billion or more with a total economic cost of $145 billion for 2021. Per the data, 2021 ranks second in terms of frequency of extreme weather events, third for costliest and was also determined to be one of the deadliest years recorded.

Below is a statement by Dr. Rachel Cleetus, policy director and lead economist for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“The sobering power of NOAA’s annual data on billion-dollar disasters highlights a worsening and undeniable trend. This report underscores the reality of how the climate crisis is already affecting people’s lives and the economy with every region of the country having been affected. Additionally, the devastating toll and trauma imposed by extreme weather and climate disasters have, and continue to, hit some people harder than others with communities of color, low-income communities, and communities that have endured multiple disasters often bearing the brunt of its impacts.

“We simply cannot adapt to runaway climate change. To curtail the worst climate and extreme weather disasters, policymakers must take drastic actions to rein in global warming emissions across all sectors of the economy during this consequential decade and invest in climate resilience. This begins with Congress working together to pass the Build Back Better Act—a crucial step to shift sharply away from fossil fuels toward clean energy and ensure communities are better prepared for disasters before they strike. Fossil fuel companies and their allies shouldn’t be allowed to stand in the way of desperately needed climate action.”

If you have any questions or would like to arrange an interview with Dr. Cleetus, please contact UCS Climate and Energy Media Manager Ashley Siefert Nunes. UCS Also has experts available who can speak about the following:

  • The more than 6 percent increase of U.S. heat-trapping emissions in 2021 relative to 2020, as well as increased coal use resulting from volatile natural gas prices last year. At the same time, renewables continued to grow reaching 20 percent of the power mix in 2021.
  • The previous year ranking as one of the hottest on record, according to recently released data from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, with corroborating data expected this week from U.S. agencies NOAA and NASA.
  • The connection between climate change and extreme weather events, such as more frequent and intense wildfires, drought, storms and floods.
  • What local, state and federal governments can do—including passing the Build Back Better Act—to lower carbon emissions, transform the economy, and ensure communities are adequately prepared for climate change.
  • How the United States can meet its climate pledge under the Paris Agreement to decrease its emissions at least 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels within the next eight years.
  • Recent attribution science showing the accountability of fossil fuel companies for climate impacts and damages.