Climate Change

Tropical cyclones cause more damage than we think — and India among countries facing high social cost of carbon

Extreme weather events drive up these costs by more than 20% globally

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Friday 24 November 2023
Impact of Cyclone Amphan in West Bengal, India in May 2020. Photo: iStock

Extreme weather events also have long-term impacts on economies and can hinder economic development, increasing the ‘social cost’ of carbon. A new study has found the long-term impacts might be higher than expected — India’s long-term economic damages from tropical cyclones are expected to range from $43-47 per tonne of carbon dioxide.

The social cost of carbon, according to the paper, estimates the future costs of societies from the emission of one additional tonne of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and is a key metric informing climate policies.

Globally, the long-term impacts of these storms raise the global social cost of carbon by more than 20 percent, compared to previous estimates, according to the study published in journal Nature Communications

Driving this increase mainly are India, the United States, China, Taiwan, and Japan, the paper stated. India’s social costs represent 11.3 per cent of global median economic damages from tropical cyclones, the study found. 

“Intense tropical cyclones have the power to slow down the economic development of a country for more than a decade, our analysis shows,” Hazem Krichene, author and scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) at the time the research was conducted, explained in a statement.

Extreme weather events like tropical cyclones affect an average of 20.4 million people annually and cause a mean direct annual economic loss of $51.5 billion averaged over the last decade.

“With global warming, the share of the most intense tropical cyclones is expected to increase, so it becomes more likely that economies may not be able to recover fully in between storms,” Krichene added.

The researchers noted that the current policies do not consider the long-term effects of extreme events. They theorised that the current social cost of carbon estimates does not present a complete picture of economic damages.

So they first estimated how 41 countries’ growth historically responded to tropical cyclones from 1981 to 2015. Next, they projected them for future global warming scenarios. 

To calculate the social cost of carbon, the researchers looked at the statistical relationship between per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) growth and population-weighted annual mean temperatures over land.

Damages from tropical cyclones’ damages are already high. They could be driving up the country-level social cost of China, the US and India by 68 per cent, 53 per cent, and 9 per cent, respectively,

The growth losses robustly increased with global mean temperature for 37 out of the 41 evaluated countries, the analysis showed.

Further, the economic damages do not depend on a country’s development level. A slump in growth was recorded across all four income groups. The share of losses for high-income countries was found to be 91 per cent, upper-middle-income countries (85 per cent), lower-middle-income countries (93 per cent), and low-income countries (100 per cent).

Tropical cyclones increase the social cost of carbon from $173-212 per tonne of carbon dioxide, which is more than 20 per cent globally.

“When it comes to extreme events, much focus is put on immediate economic damages. However, it is as crucial to better quantify the overall costs of these events to inform societies of the real costs of climate change and the climate impacts that can be avoided by effective climate action”, study author Christian Otto from PIK said in a statement.

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