Climate change poses a bigger risk to long-term global economic growth than the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, according to Swiss Re. The world just had the third warmest June on record last month, with the average temperature 0.32 degrees Celsius higher than the average for the month in the three decades to 2020, according to Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. The company, one of the world’s biggest reinsurers, estimated that US$270 billion worth of economic losses were caused by natural catastrophes worldwide last year, of which a third were attributed to floods. Just a quarter of flood-related losses were covered by insurance. “Despite the pandemic’s extensive impact, climate change remains the biggest long-term threat to the global economy,” Swiss Re said in written comments to the Post . “And the effects of climate change are already manifesting in second perils, such as flash floods, droughts and wildfires.” As heatwaves afflict vast swathes of land from Spain to Italy, Europe endured the second warmest June on record at around 1.6 degrees above average. Spain and Portugal are suffering their second prolonged heatwave in two months, after experiencing the hottest May on record. On Friday, the UK Meteorological Office issued its first ever warning for exceptional heat, forecasting temperatures of over 40 degrees in parts of England early next week, which would break the 38.7 degrees record set in 2019. “Drought might also prevail for the next three months in large parts of Europe,” said Deutscher Wetterdienst, the German meteorological service, on July 6. “In the long term, depending on the extent of future global warming, precipitation in the Mediterranean region will decrease [and] in the summer, there is a risk of drought spreading to central and especially western Europe.” Large parts of India, Pakistan, China and Japan, as well as the southern state of Texas in the United States, also experienced extreme heat earlier than normal this year. In China, during the first 42 days of this summer – up to July 12, the nation experienced 5.3 hot days, 2.4 days more than the long-term average year and the highest in the past five decades, state media reported on Thursday, citing data from the National Climate Centre. The heatwave has lasted for over 30 days, affecting just over half the nation’s land area and almost two-thirds of its population, it noted. On Friday afternoon, most of eastern China and parts of central and western China were baking in temperatures of 37 degrees and above. “I don’t go out these days as it is over 40 degrees every day,” Minny Wu, who returned from Shenzhen to her hometown Chongqing to care for her cancer-stricken father, said on Thursday. The temperature in the southwest mainland city, one of China’s “three furnaces”, ranged from 33 to 42 degrees that day. Even in Hong Kong, which has experienced a cloudier than usual June, an unusually long and persistent hot spell started on July 8, with daily top temperatures of 33 to 35 degrees forecast to last until at least July 25. Research using global meteorological records indicates that heatwaves in the past decades have become more intense, long-lasting and frequent, a trend that is discernible in all parts of the world, said Gabriel Lau Ngar-cheung, professor emeritus at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s department of geography and resource management. “The computer models at various centres predict that the current heatwave trends will be even more prominent in the remaining decades of the 21st century,” he said. Meanwhile, southern China was hit by severe floods last month. Rainfall that exceeded the normal level by 60 per cent has caused direct economic losses of over 12.5 billion yuan (US$1.8 billion) in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, while record-level floods have caused 1.7 billion yuan of estimated losses in northern Guangdong province. In east Australia, insured losses from floods earlier this year stood at US$4.8 billion, making it the nation’s third costliest weather event on record, Insurance Council of Australia said last month. The world faces unavoidable climate hazards as global warming reaches 1.5 degrees within two decades from pre-industrial levels, scientists said in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in February. Greenhouse gas emissions arising from human activities have already caused an average temperature rise of 1.1 degrees since 1850. Net zero by 2050 is required to avert the worst catastrophic impacts of climate change, scientists said. By 2100, global assets exposed to once-in-100 year coastal flood risk are projected at between US$7.9 trillion and US$12.7 trillion, even if carbon dioxide emissions start declining by around 2045 to reach roughly half of the levels of 2050 by 2100. This year’s multiple hot spells and flood events followed close on the heels of last year’s record-breaking extreme heatwaves in western North America, Russia and Eastern Europe, besides severe floods in western Europe that caused US$41.8 billion of losses. Total spending of US$100 trillion over the next 30 years will be required over the next three decades – mostly on solar and wind farms besides energy storage and hydrogen facilities – for the world’s energy supply systems to transition to net zero emission ones, according to US brokerage Sanford Bernstein. “[While] climate events have not had a pronounced effect on the global economy so far … awareness and vigilance are warranted as we are seeing the rise of a risk never priced before,” said Dan Raghoonundon, ESG corporate research lead at London-based asset manager Janus Henderson Investors.