According to the reinsurer Munich Re, increasingly severe storms and extreme weather conditions give rise to fears of rising natural catastrophe losses on earth in the coming years. The picture shows an area in Indonesia that was devastated by a tsunami. (archive image)
Last year, floods, storms, forest fires and other disasters caused economic damage of 270 billion dollars worldwide.
This was announced by the industry leader on Tuesday. Although that was less than in 2021 with losses of 320 billion dollars, it was part of the “loss-intensive” past five years. The financially most serious catastrophe of the past year was hurricane “Ian”, which hit the US east coast at the end of September, with damage costing $100 billion.
Natural catastrophes are also becoming increasingly expensive for insurance companies: around 120 billion of the total damage of 270 billion dollars was insured. “We have something like a new normal with 100 billion annual claims for the insurance industry,” said Ernst Rauch, head of geo research at Munich Re. “We have exceeded this limit five times in the recent past. In the future we will reach or exceed the hundred billion more and more frequently.”
Munich Re has been documenting natural catastrophes for decades because the data is important for calculating insurance premiums. North America is often hit the hardest, including last year with total damage of 150 billion dollars.
Hurricanes are a key factor in this. “The hurricane statistics in the Atlantic go back to 1851,” said Rauch. “Since then, there have been an average of around eleven to twelve named tropical cyclones per year, but the observation data from earlier decades are not necessarily complete.”
Reliable data has been available since satellite observation began in the late 1970s. “And since then we’ve had an average of about 14 to 15 named storms a year, many of them hurricane force. Our observation in recent years is that the number of storms in the North Atlantic has increased.”
Munich Re assumes that the trend, which is worrying for the US east coast and the Caribbean, will continue: “The proportion of particularly strong storms has also increased, and this will continue to increase as a result of climate change,” said Rauch.
The Asia/Pacific region follows in second place in terms of natural catastrophe losses with around 70 billion dollars. The damage in Europe amounted to about 25 billion. According to the company’s geoscientists, extreme drought and temperatures were particularly unusual.
“In Hamburg and London we had over 40 degrees for the first time, and again – similar to 2018 – saw a severe drought,” said Rauch. There are not many years in which climate change can be felt so directly in Germany.» Rauch’s expectation for the future: “We will see this combination of heat and drought more often in the future.”
According to evaluations by the EU earth observation program Copernicus, the summer of 2022 was the warmest ever measured in Europe, and the whole of 2022 was the second warmest since records began in 1979. Only 2020 has been hotter so far.
In addition, individual natural catastrophes are now causing much more serious damage in some regions of the world than in the past: “The floods in Australia show a sudden development in claims, which we are increasingly observing in some countries and with some natural hazards,” said Rauch.
The flood damage in Australia, for example, totaled 4.7 billion dollars, significantly more than double the hitherto largest flood damage of 1.8 billion dollars.
This also applies to Germany: “In the Ahr Valley, the insured loss, at eight billion euros, exceeded the previous damage record from flooding in Germany by a factor of four,” Rauch cited the flood of summer 2021 as an example.
According to analyzes by the EU program Copernicus, temperatures in Europe have risen more than twice as fast as the global average over the past 30 years. Of all seven continents, Europe is warming the most. The concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere have risen to record levels in 2022: an annual average of 417 ppm (parts per million) for carbon dioxide and 1894 ppb (parts per billion) for methane.
The measurements showed “that atmospheric concentrations continue to rise without showing any signs of slowing down,” said Vincent-Henri Peuch, head of the Copernicus Monitoring Service. The observations are based on measurements on the ground, in the air and in the water, as well as from earth observation and weather satellites.