The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather related catastrophes is climate change, says Munich Re
Floods in central Europe, wildfires in Russia, and widespread flooding in Pakistan are all indications that climate change is having an effect, according to Munich Re.
Weeks ahead of the World Climate Summit in Cancún, Mexico, Munich Re emphasised the likelihood of the link between the increasing number of extreme weather events and climate change.
“The number and scale of weather-related natural catastrophe losses in the first nine months of 2010 was exceptionally high,” said the reinsurer.
“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,” continued the statement.
Professor Peter Höppe, Head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research Centre, said: “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 US$ 65bn and insured losses to US$ 18bn.
However, despite producing 13 named storms, the hurricane season has been relatively benign to date, the hurricanes having pursued favourable courses.
Munich Re’s natural catastrophe database showed 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 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,” added the reinsurer. “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.”
“There are at present insufficient data on many weather risks and regions to permit statistically backed assertions regarding the link with climate change. However, 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 heatwaves 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. Although climate change can no longer be halted, even with the help of very ambitious schemes, it can still be curbed.”