More Evidence on Increasing Extreme Weather Impacts

January 19, 2014

FastCoExist:

It’s hard to point to any one weather disaster and say definitively that it’s related to climate change. But it’s not your imagination: the number of major weather-related disasters in the U.S. has been steadily increasing over the past few decades. For evidence, check out the NOAA National Climatic Data Center’s series of maps showing the number of billion dollar weather disasters that have occurred every year since 1980.

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19851990extrem2013extrem

Not every year has had more disasters than the years immediately prior, but the trend is there. The weather is less stable than it was 30 years ago, and it’s racking up some pretty big bills. Presumably, it’s a problem that won’t get better anytime soon.

Toronto Globe and Mail:

What is remarkable is that Munich Re first warned about global warming way back in 1973, when it noticed that flood damage was increasing. It was the first big company to do so—two decades before the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit triggered a planetary anxiety attack by publicizing the concepts of “global warming” and “climate change.”

Munich Re, Swiss Re and the other reinsurers, along with the Lloyd’s of London insurance market (unrelated to the bank of the same name), stand out from the rest of the business world by being on the same page as scientists on climate change. What’s more, while most of the planet has its head in the sand about the reality and requirements of global warming, the reinsurance industry has already moved on to mastering the math on other catastrophes.

Like any industry, the reinsurers and insurers stay in business by not losing money year after year. To accomplish that, they have to turn ever-greater portions of “unexpected” losses stemming from the weather into “expected” losses, which requires that they become adept at risk modelling.

Reinsurers and insurers lose money when they misjudge risks that come back to bite them. To reduce their own risk profiles, the insurers have to become expert at matching the premiums to the estimated risk. Charging too little for, say, flood risk in a region that is becoming flood-prone is bad business. Equally, charging too much for premiums on natural catastrophes that are not on the rise, like earthquakes, is bad business because it scares away potential insurance buyers.

Just as recognizing the trend lines on climate change is good business for the reinsurers, the oil companies’ skepticism was designed to prevent or dilute regulations that would hurt their business. The reinsurers had no such axe to grind. The question: Will they be right on emerging risks, such as genetically modified crops and Arctic shipwrecks?

Munich Re—Münchener Rückversicherungs-Gesellschaft AG, to use its proper name—is one of the world’s biggest reinsurers. In 2012, it wrote €52 billion in insurance and reinsurance and earned €3.2 billion. It has 45,000 employees and a market value of €27 billion as of early November, putting it neck and neck with rival Swiss Re. There are no Canadian players of this scale in the business. The American biggie, General Re, is privately held. Like Munich Re, it’s an investment held by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Höppe, 59, is “Prof. Dr. Dr.” on his business card—he has doctorates in both meteorology and human biology. His endless CV, which includes advisory positions at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and the OECD’s advisory board on the “financial management of large-scale catastrophes,” underlines his stature as one of the world’s top climate-change specialists. His main areas of research have been the effects of atmospheric processes (heat, cold, ultraviolet radiation, air pressure) and pollutants (ozone, soot) on we poor humans.

Höppe is compact, intense and enthusiastic. A bit rumpled, like a scientist from Central Casting, he loves to back up his statements with official sources, jumping up every few minutes during an interview to retrieve documents. The 1973 document he prints out for me is a source of pride within the company, which bills itself as “the first alerter to global warming.” The warning notes “the rising temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere [as a result of which glaciers and the polar caps recede, surfaces of lakes are reduced and ocean temperatures rise].” It points to the “rise of the CO2 content of the air, causing a change in the absorption of solar energy.”

The warning ends with a pledge: “We wish to enlarge on this complex of problems in greater detail, especially as—as far as we know—its conceivable impact on the long-range risk trend has hardly been examined to date.”

The pledge was fulfilled. Munich Re has been examining climate change since then, compiling the world’s most extensive database on natural disasters, covering some 33,000 events and drawing on research by its own staff and more than 200 other sources. “There hasn’t been any industry or company that has addressed climate change this early,” Höppe says.

How did Munich Re and the other reinsurers get it right so early? The answer, in a word, is fear—fear of losses that could destroy their business. No industry has more incentive to know the effects of climate change than the reinsurance and insurance industries.

Much more at the link.

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6 Responses to “More Evidence on Increasing Extreme Weather Impacts”


  1. […] FastCoExist: It's hard to point to any one weather disaster and say definitively that it's related to climate change. But it's not your imagination: the number of major weather-related disasters in…  […]


  2. It is worth, once again, remember these quotes:
    “Solar activity is declining very fast at the moment,” Mike Lockwood, professor of space environmental physics at Reading University, UK, told New Scientist .”
    “And less solar activity can slow the jet stream , triggering a suite of interlinked extreme weather events like the Russian heatwave of 2010, and the devastating floods in Pakistan that same year.” (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24512-solar-activity-heads-for-lowest-low-in-four-centuries.html).

    “… in 1973, when it noticed that flood damage was increasing.”

    The period of the mid-70’s, a rather strong solar minimum after the weak solar cycle XX (much weaker than the XIX and XXI).

    IPCC AR5 Chapter 2 – about extreme events:
    “In summary, there continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale.”

    “In summary, the current assessment concludes that there is not enough evidence at present to suggest more than low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall) since the middle of the 20th century …”

    “Based on updated studies, AR4 conclusions regarding global increasing trends in drought since the 1970s were probably overstated.”

    • fortranprog Says:

      That quote by Mike Lockwood has been amplified (and changed by omission) by several denial sites and again spreads confusion in public minds. Denialists love the new ice age is coming theory because of the misconceptions and confusion it seeds.

      It must be clearly understood that greenhouse gases (CO2 in particular) is the major forcing agent on our climate presently. There are enough other natural variables (volcanoes, solar activity, ocean current changes etc) acting on the climate already without man adding an addition to the complex mix. Please read the rest of the article in the New Scientist Mike Lockwood is very clear.

      New Scientist 01/11/2013

      Little ice age
      The Maunder Minimum coincided with the worst European winters of the little ice age, a period lasting centuries when several regions around the globe experienced unusual cooling. Tree ring studies suggest it cooled the northern hemisphere by up to 0.4 °C.

      But Lockwood says we should not expect a new grand minimum to bring on a new little ice age. Human-induced global warming, he says, is already a more important force in global temperatures than even major solar cycles.

      Temperatures have risen by 0.85 °C since 1880, with more expected, according to the most recent assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on

      http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24512-solar-activity-heads-for-lowest-low-in-four-centuries.html

      Potsdam Institute

      Study on the Little Ice Age: Low solar activity just marginally cools the climate
      09/01/2011 – The weakening sun was not the determinant factor for the Little Ice Age. Strong volcanic eruptions in particular, but also a smaller amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were important factors during this period of cooler climate in the 16th and 17th century, a new study shows. This implies that low solar activity, which is expected by some researchers for the coming decades, cannot considerably slow down global warming caused by humankind’s greenhouse gas emissions.

      http://www.pik-potsdam.de/news/press-releases/archive/2011/study-on-the-little-ice-age-low-solar-activity-just-marginally-cools-the-climate

      Potsdam Institute
      03/10/2010 – A new Grand Minimum of solar activity would decrease the rise of global mean temperature caused by human greenhouse gas emissions only marginally. A new modelling study by researchers of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, published online today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, finds a temperature offset of at most 0.3 degrees Celsius until the end of the century. This is less than ten percent of the temperature rise projected under “business as usual” scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

      http://www.pik-potsdam.de/news/press-releases/archive/2010/weakening-sun-would-hardly-slow-global-warming

      Both insurance statistics and the world body that collects global catastrophe data both indicate that floods are on the increase. Modelling projects that wetter places will get wetter and dryer places will get dryer.


    • The part you quote refers to trends “on a global scale”. This is in no way in contradiction with the experience that many regions have seen significant changes.


  3. […] It’s hard to point to any one weather disaster and say definitively that it’s related to climate change. But it’s not your imagination: the number of major weather-related disasters in the U.S. has been steadily increasing over the past few decades.For evidence, check out the NOAA National Climatic Data Center’s series of maps showing the number of billion dollar weather disasters that have occurred every year since 1980.Not every year has had more disasters than the years immediately prior, but the trend is there. The weather is less stable than it was 30 years ago, and it’s racking up some pretty big bills. Presumably, it’s a problem that won’t get better anytime soon.Click headline to read more, view maps and watch video clip–  […]


  4. […] 2014/01/19: PSinclair: More Evidence on Increasing Extreme Weather Impacts […]


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