Munich Re Highlights Climate Change Link to Extreme Weather Events

September 28, 2010

A bulletin from Munich Re underlines the “exceptionally high” incidence of “weather-related natural catastrophe losses in the first nine months of 2010,” both in “number and scale.” The floods in central Europe, wildfires in Russia and widespread flooding in Pakistan headed the list.

The timely roundup coincides with the approaching World Climate Summit scheduled for November 29 to December 10 in Cancún, Mexico. Munich Re said that it “emphasizes the probability of a link between the increasing number of weather extremes and climate change.”

In the run-up to the summit, Munich Re will focus attention on this issue with a series of communications on natural catastrophes, climate change and potential solutions.

In addition Munich Re pointed out that “globally, 2010 has been the warmest year since records began over 130 years ago, the ten warmest during that period all falling within the last 12 years. The warmer atmosphere and higher sea temperatures are having significant effects.”

Prof. Peter Höppe, Head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research/Corporate Climate Centre stated: “It’s as if the weather machine had changed up a gear. Unless binding carbon reduction targets stay on the agenda, future generations will bear the consequences.”

Munich Re recorded a total of 725 weather-related natural hazard events with significant losses from January to September 2010, the second-highest figure recorded for the first nine months of the year since 1980. Some 21,000 people lost their lives, 1,760 in Pakistan alone, up to one-fifth of which was flooded for several weeks. Overall losses due to weather-related natural catastrophes from January to September came to more than $65 billion and insured losses to $18 billion.

The one relatively bright spot in the reinsurer’s analysis is the fact that “despite producing 13 named storms, the hurricane season has been relatively benign to date, the hurricanes having pursued favorable courses.”

Munich Re also noted that its natural catastrophe database “shows a marked increase in the number of weather-related events. For instance, globally there has been a more than threefold increase in loss-related floods since 1980 and more than double the number of windstorm natural catastrophes, with particularly heavy losses as a result of Atlantic hurricanes.”

The explanation for the increase in insured losses, however, is more complex than just more storms of greater violence. Munich Re explained that the “rise in natural catastrophe losses is primarily due to socio-economic factors. In many countries, populations are rising, and more and more people moving into exposed areas.

“At the same time, greater prosperity is leading to higher property values. Nevertheless, it would seem that the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change. The view that weather extremes are more frequent and intense due to global warming coincides with the current state of scientific knowledge as set out in the Fourth IPCC Assessment Report.”

Munich Re pointed out that one of the main problems associated with climate research is “insufficient data on many weather risks and regions,” which limits the ability of meteorologists to set forth “statistically backed assertions regarding the link with climate change.” However, the report continued, “there is evidence that, as a result of warming, events associated with severe windstorms, such as thunderstorms, hail and cloudbursts, have become more frequent in parts of the USA, southwest Germany and other regions.

“The number of very severe tropical cyclones is also increasing. One direct result of warming is an increase in heat waves such as that experienced in Russia this summer. There are also indications of a higher incidence of atmospheric conditions causing air mass formation on the north side of the Alps and low-lying mountain ranges, a phenomenon which can result in floods. Heavy rain and flash floods are affecting not only people living close to rivers but also those who live well away from traditionally flood-prone areas.”

In conclusion Munich Re accepted a stark reality. It said that “although climate change can no longer be halted, even with the help of very ambitious schemes, it can still be curbed.”

Source: Munich Re

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