The UK has been hit hard by major flooding over the last few months, weather one Met Office scientist called the “most exceptional period of rainfall in 248 years.” Now, new research says extreme floods could become more common in Europe by 2050, causing the financial losses from these weather events to quadruple.
The study, published Sunday in Nature Climate Change, found that instances of very extreme floods now occur around once every 50 years in Europe but could shorten to every 30 years by 2050, and that instances of extreme weather-related damage that now occur every 16 years could occur every 10. That means that Europe’s financial losses related to flooding, which now total about 4.9 billion euros a year, could increase almost 380 percent to 23.5 billion euros by 2050.
Climate change plays a role in this spike in flood losses, but the living patterns of Europeans also factor in.
“About two-thirds [of the increase] is caused by socio-economic growth,” lead author Brenden Jongman told the BBC. “People are living in flood-prone areas, [and] the income per capita is increasing in the dangerous areas around Europe.”
The study’s authors recommend that the EU invest now in policies that would protect cities and countries against flooding. It found that if the government invests about 1.75 billion euros into flood protection now, Europe’s annual flood losses could drop by around 30 percent — or 7 billion euros — by 2050.
“The costs of these investments come up front, but the benefits of this flood protection might be in the future, not in the current government’s term,” Jongman said.
Europe’s not the only region to see predictions of, or to experience, higher weather-related disaster costs. Last year, NOAA found that from 2011 to 2012, the 25 costliest weather events in the United States caused around $188 billion in total damage. And thanks to extreme weather in 2013, insurers spent a record C$3.2 billion to cover claims in Canada last year.