Munich Re on Hurricanes and Disaster Trends

February 26th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

This week a group of three authors from Germany, including two from Munich Re, have a paper out in the journal Regional Environmental Change titled “The impact of socio-economics and climate change on tropical cyclone losses in the USA” (here in PDF). The paper looks at hurricane losses in the United States and the role of socio-economic development and climate change and variability. Here is what they conclude (emphasis added):

Socio-economic developments and the impact of climate change are considered to be the primary causes of the higher tropical cyclone losses observed in the USA. Socioeconomic changes largely account for the loss evolution of both tropical cyclones in the USA and weather-related natural catastrophes in general, the main reasons for this being increased wealth and greater settlement of exposed areas (cf. IPCC 2007b), as confirmed by our results. On the other hand, the conclusions about the role of natural and anthropogenic climate change are less clear-cut. . . .

A positive but not significant trend was identified for the period 1950–2005. However, a positive, statistically significant trend was identified for the period from the start of the last ‘‘cold phase’’ (1971) until 2005.23 Annual adjusted losses increased on average by 4% during this period compared with 5% for annual losses adjusted to exclude inflation but not greater wealth.24

[FOOTNOTE 24 SAYS:] Were one to look at the Pielke et al. (2008) dataset over the same period, the quantitative findings would be identical. . .

It should be noted when assessing the results of both this paper and Schmidt et al. (2008) that it is generally difficult to obtain valid quantitative findings about the role of socioeconomics and climate change in loss increases. This is because of criteria such as the stochastic nature of weather extremes, a shortage of quality data, and the role of various other potential factors that act in parallel and interact. We therefore regard our results as being an indication only of the extent to which socio-economic and climate changes account for the increase in losses. Both studies confirm the consensus reached in May 2006 at the international workshop in Hohenkammer attended by leading experts on climate change and natural catastrophe losses (see Table 6).

So with all due respect to Al Gore, he still has some significant accuracy problems in his presentation on the subject of disasters and climate change. Switching to a Munich Re dataset does not address these problems.

This situation could be because of my “corporate, right wing” ties, or perhaps, it just might be because that is what the science says. You be the judge.

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