Greenwire, January 2, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: As the dollar cost extreme weather rises, the insurance industry take a huge financial hit -- but in the end, everybody pays.]

Extreme weather conditions that caused natural disasters led to $75 billion in economic losses, up from $50 billion the year before, according to Munich Re, the world's second-largest reinsurer.

Losses to the insurance industry doubled to $30 billion during the year, as the number of individual disasters rose to 950, the highest figure since 1974, when Munich Re began its survey.

"The trend in respect of weather extremes shows that climate change is already taking effect and that more such extremes are to be expected in the future," said Torsten Jeworrek, a member of the reinsurer's board.

The greatest losses to the insurance industry happened in Europe, which was hit by an unusually large number of extreme weather conditions throughout the year. Losses in the United States were lower than many expected, with wildfires in October causing insured losses of $1.9 billion and August's Hurricane Dean costing $1 billion.

Munich Re said that while it was ready to deal with the higher number of natural catastrophes, it would come at "a cost to society as a whole" as insurance companies were forced to raise their premiums and the costs of repairing infrastructure made their way onto tax bills (Vidya Ram, Forbes, Dec. 27).

2007 marked by extreme, record-breaking weather

Looking back on the weather around the world in 2007, scientists are noting increased hot temperatures and other weird weather events that point to man-made climate change.

While individual weather extremes cannot be attributed to global warming, "it's the run of them and the different locations" that have the mark of climate change, said top European climate expert Phil Jones, director of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia in England.

The year was such an extreme weather year that the World Meteorological Organization put out a news release chronicling all the records and unusual developments in August.

Scientists say that as climate change continues, the world will experience more extreme weather, bursts of torrential rain and prolonged drought. "We're having an increasing trend of odd years," said Michael MacCracken, a former top federal climate scientist, now chief scientist at the Climate Institute of Washington. "Pretty soon odd years are going to be the norm" (Seth Borenstein, AP/San Francisco Chronicle online, Dec. 29). -- SG