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Munich Re: 2008 Natural Catastrophes Show That “Climate Change Has Already Started”

by Jack Rosebro

Munichre08
2008 natural disasters, by location and severity. Source: Munich Re. Click to enlarge.

Munich Re, one of the world’s largest re-insurers, has released its annual figures on worldwide losses from natural catastrophes, and has termed 2008 “one of the most devastating years on record,” partly due to the large number of tropical cyclones as well as the Sichuan earthquake in China.

According to the company, the year is the third most expensive on record, exceeded only by 2005—the year that Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans—and 1995, the year of the Kobe earthquake.

It is now very probable that the progressive warming of the atmosphere is due to the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity. The logic is clear. When temperatures increase, there is more evaporation, and the atmosphere has a greater capacity to absorb water vapor, with the result that its energy content is higher. The weather machine runs in top gear, bringing more intense severe weather events with corresponding effects in terms of losses. This relationship is already visible today in the increasing heavy precipitation events in many regions of the Earth, the heat waves, and the hurricanes in the North Atlantic.

—Peter Höppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo-Risks Research unit
“The [natural catastrophe] loss statistics for 2008 fit the pattern that the calculations of climate models lead us to expect.”
—Peter Höppe

Despite a drop in loss-producing events compared with 2007 (from 960 to 750), insured losses in 2008 rose to US $45 billion, about 50% higher than in the previous year. More than 220,000 people died worldwide this year as a result of natural catastrophes.

Torsten Jeworrek, of Munich Re’s Board of Management, commented: “This continues the long-term trend we have been observing. Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes. These, in turn, generate greater and greater losses because the concentration of values in exposed areas, like regions on the coast, is also increasing further throughout the world.

In Asia, Cyclone Nargis is estimated to have claimed the lives of more than 135,000 people in Myanmar, with 54,000 people still missing. With large parts of Myanmar’s mangrove forests—a natural form of coastal protection—eradicated in recent years, storm surges reached as far as 40 kilometers (25 miles) inland. The country was inundated with water up to three meters deep, and more than a million of Myanmar’s inhabitants were made homeless.

Munichre08b_2
Ten largest natural disasters in 2008. Source: Munich Re. Click to enlarge.

Six tropical cyclones—Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike—reached the US coast this year. Ike made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane near Galveston, and submerged large sections of the Texas and Louisiana coast. The incidence of tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic this year was also higher than the long-term average, as well as the yearly average of the current warm phase (14.7 cyclones) since 1995. A total of 16 tropical cyclones were counted in 2008; eight reached hurricane strength, with five classified as major hurricanes (Categories 3 to 5).

Preliminary estimates published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) identify 2008 as the tenth warmest year since the beginning of routine temperature recording, and the eighth warmest in the northern hemisphere.

This year, Munich Re began collaborating with Lord Nicholas Stern, lead author of the Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change, (earlier post) and the London School of Economics, where Stern is a professor, on research concerning the economic impacts of climate change.

A report by Stern, entitled Key Elements of a Global Deal on Climate Change and released last April, focused on strategies and cost calculations for a greenhouse gas stabilization target of 500 ppm CO2 equivalent, as opposed to than the 550 pm CO2 equivalent target examined by the Stern Review.

The reason that we have chosen to focus on 500 ppm rather than 550 ppm,” explained Stern, “is that subsequent evidence has indicated that the position is more risky than assumed in the Stern Review.”

Stern gave four primary reasons for revising the stabilization target:

  • Emissions are growing faster that the IPCC trajectory used in the Stern Review, as summarized in Australia’s Garnaut Climate Change Review (earlier post).

  • The absorptive capacity of the planet, including of the oceans, appears to be lower than many earlier models had assumed.

  • The weights in the upper tail of climate sensitivity (the effect of eventual temperature increases on stocks of greenhouse gases) appear to be higher than anticipated.

  • Physical effects of global warming from a given temperature change, via climate change and directly from the warming, appear to be happening faster than had been anticipated.

Dr. Jeworrek said that the increase in natural catastrophes “have resulted in three action strategies, which we are resolutely pursuing.

Firstly, we accept risks in our core business only at risk-adequate prices, so that if the exposure situation changes, we adjust the pricing structure. Secondly, with our expertise we develop new business opportunities in the context of climate protection and adaptation measures. Thirdly, in the international debate, we—as a company—press for effective and binding rules on CO2 emissions, so that climate change is curbed and future generations do not have to live with weather scenarios that are difficult to control.

As of January 2009, graphs and tables derived from current analyses of natural catastrophes will be available at the NatCatSERVICE download center. Munich Re is headquartered in Munich, Germany and insures in about 160 countries.

Resources

  • Earlier posts on Munich Re Annual Catastrophe Reports (2007, 2006, 2004)

Comments

Andrey Levin

The Earth, actually, cooled in 2008, and very substantially. Averaged over night and day, over the globe, for full year, lower atmosphere temperature plunged about 0.6C, or about how much multi-year average temperature rose in all 20 century.

Now, it does not mean that warming stopped, or next year will be cool too. But it does mean that anyone claiming that natural catastrophes in year 2008 increased because of Global Warming is pathological liar.

ai_vin

Unless the natural catastrophes were cause by the rapid cooling after the warming. If you go from very hot to very cold too quickly that's gotta shock the system.

Now I have no science to back up this idea and wouldn't be surprized to find I'm totally wrong - but it is something to think about.

Reel$$

"all that is on offer is the ranting argumentative paranoid conspiracy fantasies and irrational denialism in the face of expert opinion..."

Typical tired, outmoded old psyops pablum. Sounds like a page from the "UFO Debunker's Handbook." 1947 Edition.

ai_vin

@Andrey

Here's another possibility; could the natural catastrophes in year 2008 be the cause of the cooling? There's a lot of energy in those big storms: where does it come from? It's a transfer of energy - heat into motion. And don't forget with storms or just rain you have clouds and clouds block sunlight.

Again, I wouldn't be surprized to find I'm totally wrong but...

Andrey Levin

Ai Vin:

So far, only couple of natural phenomena has been definitely linked to medium-term global climate.

First of all, it is solar activity, highly correlated with Wolf numbers, or sunspots. The record of sunspots is going back about 4 centuries, and is highly correlated with global temperatures. Currently sun is in “sleeping” mode, which is serious concern for some scientists: they anticipate Earth going back to Little Ice Age. This is clear speculation, but not without merits.

Second is about 30 years long oscillations of heat transfer from oceans to atmosphere (oceans adsorb about 85% of all solar energy reaching the Earth, and the way oceans transfer such huge amount of heat to atmosphere is not trivial matter). The main driver is PDO, which is now in cool phase, and second is AMO, which is obviously switching to cool phase too.

Third is ocean ENSO (La Nina El Nino), which lasts about 6-9 months.

Extremely important factor in Earth energy balance is cloud cover, which is, naturally, reflection of local weather. So your notion that fluctuation of naturally chaotic local weather influences global energy balance is right on the money. Most likely, unusually clear sky was the reason of massive melt of Arctic ice in 2007.

In addition, there is one another thing. One major volcanic eruption (long overdue, BTW) will cool Earth quite substantially for 2-3 years. There is even possibility of “year without summer”, as it catastrophically happened in 1811.

Other than that, there is no credible means to predict medium-term climate variations, CO2-induced GW being total sham.

P.S. Regional weather patterns change quite dramatically (10C average year-over-year, sometimes), regardless of “averaged” global temperatures. Plus huge swings from summer to winter. So “dramatic” cooling or warming of global average is a peanut for local weather, as it is for local extreme weather events.

kelly

The movie "An Inconvenient Truth" showed convincing scientific proof of CO2 increase producing temperature increase, climate change, and the vast majority of scientists agree.

The movie helped Al Gore earn the Nobel prize. The American people elected a new President who believes in this climate change and he isn't lagging in defining policy to combat global warming. Buy GM anyone?

Mark_BC

>>First of all, it is solar activity, highly correlated with Wolf numbers, or sunspots. The record of sunspots is going back about 4 centuries, and is highly correlated with global temperatures.

Could you provide some evidence to support that?

ai_vin

@Andrey

And then you had to undermine yourself with that "CO2-induced GW being total sham" bit.

CO2 is a factor, not the only factor maybe, but it's a factor and a big one too. The "total sham" is the disinformation campaign Americans have been subjected to for the past 8 years-
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=522784499045867811

sulleny

Thought by now even the most out of touch had caught on to the Al Gore "Inconvenient" debacle.

Kelly, take a close look at this man's energy use and behavior... It is one big reason many people see the whole game losing credibility.

Ah well... Happy New Year to All!

ai_vin

http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/gorehome.asp

Mark_BC

Just to make things more scientifically rigorous, there is no such thing as "proof" of global warming, and that it is caused by CO2 or any other means. For all we know it could be caused by cottage cheese in the core of Saturn. There is no such thing as a scientific proof because science is descriptive. It's just not how science works.

What science does is provide a way to investigate evidence to test whether a given hypothesis is consistent with all available observations. It provides EVIDENCE, like in a court of law, which is not the same as PROOF. It is then up to us to weigh all the evidence to decide whether a hypothesis is valid, and the implications of a yay or nay acceptance of the hypothesis.

That's why it's good that AGW denialists keep up the efforts to do legitimate science to debunk the scientific consensus on global warming, because that's how science works. Notice how I said "legitimate science"? Unfortunately the AGW denialists have been unable to do that, falling into the same old politically motivated campaigns of hate and misinformation.

Reel$$


Typical tired, outmoded old psyops pablum. Sounds like a page from the "UFO Debunker's Handbook." 1947 Edition.

Same ol' team using the same ol' MO! Maybe next year will bring new blood or...somethin?

Merry New Year!

Andrey Levin

Mark:

Google “Maunder”, for starters.

ai_vin

Mark has a point; under the procedure of science even 'gravity' is only a theory.

Andrey Levin

Mark BC: “What science does is provide a way to investigate evidence to test whether a given hypothesis is consistent with all available observations. It provides EVIDENCE, like in a court of law, which is not the same as PROOF. It is then up to us to weigh all the evidence to decide whether a hypothesis is valid, and the implications of a yay or nay acceptance of the hypothesis.”


You have very unconventional view how science works.

Conventionally, scientific hypothesys become theory (and ultimately, law) if it consistently, year after year, produces non-trivial PREDICTIONS which come true afterwards.

Ability to explain past data means virtually nothing.

Mark_BC

>>Conventionally, scientific hypothesys become theory (and ultimately, law) if it consistently, year after year, produces non-trivial PREDICTIONS which come true afterwards.

Several hundred years ago Newtonian physics seemed to explain everything. How could you argue with the seemingly perfect correlation between mathematics and observation? At the turn of the century some even went so far as to claim that science was very close to describing everything, using classical physics.

Of course with further investigation, relativity and quantum physics and biochemistry entered the scene and showed that Newtonian physics is only a small subset of a much wider and bizarre "reality". F=ma is not saying that the law is that force = mass X acceleration, because often times it isn't. What F=ma is saying is that at the scale of our conventional observations of time and space, anything that ISN'T described by F=ma is NOT the truth, and that's it. It's a negative reciprocal truth.

Scientific laws do not describe what is true; they describe what isn't true because they are only descriptive based on our limited frame of reference.

kelly

>>"Thought by now even the most out of touch had caught on to the Al Gore "Inconvenient" debacle.

Kelly, take a close look at this man's energy use and behavior... It is one big reason many people see the whole game losing credibility."

Sulleny..what? Obama acknowledges Gore's global warming views and is setting US policy to correct it!!

Andrey Levin

Mark:

You apparently are mixing up formal mathematical logic (base of mathematics, where formal proof is the king) and how theories and physical laws are formed in natural (and Earth) science.

Think about Hawking notion: “…theory must accurately describe a large class of observations … and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations."

Reel$$

Heaven help if Obama is listening to Al Gore for climate advice! We WILL all sink into the ocean!

ai_vin

Oh yes Al Gore *must* be wrong because he lives and works in a biiggg house, where as GWB *must* be right because, because, because... well after being wrong on everything else he has to be right about something, right?

ai_vin

>Google “Maunder”,

OK
"The Maunder Minimum is the name given to the period roughly from 1645 to 1715, when sunspots became exceedingly rare, as noted by solar observers of the time. It is named after the solar astronomer Edward W. Maunder (1851–1928) who discovered the dearth of sunspots during that period by studying records from those years."

First question: How do we know these 300 year old observations/records are accurate?

Second question: So what? You're not pinning your hopes of an end to AGW on another Solar Minimum happening just when we need it most, are you?

Reel$$

"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assumes that there are no long-term natural sources of energy imbalances in the Earth’s radiative budget that would cause natural periods of global warming or global cooling. But recent satellite evidence suggests that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) does indeed change the Earth’s energy balance. When that PDO-related forcing is put into a simple climate model, along with the 100-year history of the PDO, a global temperature history results which is very similar to that observed, including 75% of the centennial temperature trend. This suggests that the IPCC’s claim of high confidence in global warming being manmade is misplaced.”

Dr. Roy Spencer Dec 15, 2008

Dr. Spencer is the U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Dr. Spencer is the recipient of NASA’s Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and the American Meteorological Society’s Special Award for his satellite-based temperature monitoring work.

sulleny

@Kelly:

While Al is making progress in adopting the new agenda for global energy independence - people are still concerned with his London investment business and carbon trading.

Others are tagging him for his fuel/food consumption lifestyle:

http://greeneconomics.blogspot.com/2008/10/concerned-about-al-gores-meat-diet.html

While not an obvious contributor to oil consumption - our eating habits do fit into the fossil energy cycle.

globi

Heaven help if Obama is listening to Al Gore for climate advice! We WILL all sink into the ocean!

Probably not, but investing in efficiency and renewable technology will reduce the dependence on foreign resources and probably generate hundred thousands or even millions of jobs, jobs which are probably more valuable than mort-gage broker jobs created by an artificial housing bubble.


As an example: Germany invested in wind energy since the 90's. Not only have German wind companies created 100'000 jobs and 83% of their windturbines are exported, windenergy also reduced Germany's cng imports from Russia.

kelly

@Sulleny...

I checked the Gore 'love of beacon' URL, but doubt the Nobel prize committee will rescind his prize and global warming arguement. Farm owners may grow and eat meat.

His $1359 electric bill sounded high, but maybe there's farm use, employee dwellings, lighting, etc. I assumed he wasn't around, but in aircraft polluting the earth - instead of bicycling to world-wide commitments.

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