Munich ReDux

by | Jan 11, 2009

Further to our post on the love-in between Munich Re insurance the BBC and Professor Lord Sir Nicholas Stern…

Over at Prometheus, Roger Pielke Jr presents statistics that contradict Munich Re’s statements on increases in the human and economic costs of natural disasters:

Even as populations continue to grow, there has been no upward trend in the loss of life, despite the tragic reality of major disasters around the world every year. Extracting a climate change signal in that data is just not possible.

Intriguingly, Pielke has collaborated with Munich Re’s Peter Hoppe on economic costs, resulting in a paper in Science which concluded that:

According to data collected by Munich Re, global weather-related economic losses (inflation adjusted, 2006 dollars) have increased from an annual average of U.S.$8.9 billion from 1977–1986 to U.S.$45.1 billion from 1997–2006. However, because of issues related to data quality, the low frequency of extreme event impacts, limited length of the time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change brought about by greenhouse gas emissions (S1). This conclusion is likely to remain unchanged in the near future.

In the BBC article we reported on, however, Hoppe is quoted as saying:

The weather machine runs into top gear, bringing more intense severe weather events with corresponding effects in terms of losses.

And his Munich Re colleague Torsten Jeworrek said:

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.

As Pielke puts it:

So Munich Re scientists (Hoeppe and E. Faust) publish in Science that attribution of losses to greenhouse gas emissions is not presently possible, and a Munich Re board member says that such attribution is “very probably” leading to more extreme events.

He concludes:

The fact is that 2008 disaster losses tell us nothing about human-caused climate change. They offer no pressing reason for passing a climate treaty, since such a treaty can have no real effect on the climate for decades anyway. And even if it did the main reason for increasing losses is social not climatic. There are far better reasons for a global climate treaty than reducing disaster losses, since there are far better approaches to that end (as we argue in our Science paper). Further, there may be good reason for Munich Re to want to increase its rates, but making grossly unsound appeals to the spectre of greenhouse gas impacts on disasters in the near term will both harm its own credibility as a business, and potenially harm efforts to secure a global climate treaty, as overselling the science will inevitably result in a backlash.

Read the whole thing here.


  1. Alex Cull

    Scientific American has a slideshow featuring the “Top 10 Places Already Affected by Climate Change” here at:

    Slide 2 features the American Gulf Coast. Rather than directly repeat the old assertion that links GW to increased frequency and severity of hurricanes, the writer falls back on the “insurance premiums are increasing” argument.

    “Climate scientists may still be debating to what extent climate change is going to translate into stronger and more frequent hurricanes, but insurance companies aren’t waiting for the final answer.”

    Just a little bit sneaky, I thought.

  2. Editors

    J, thanks for the heads up. To be honest, we’re less interested in what Munich Re has to say on the subject (it’s the least we’d expect of a commercial enterprise) than the fact that the British Bleedin Broadcasting Corporation is happy to parrot its bleatings without a hint of journalistic scrutiny. That said, Pielke makes a great comment in response to a Mr Schneider’s defence of Munich Re…

    “I wonder if Mr. Schneider would also excuse ExxonMobile (for example) from adhering to scientific consensus and calling things like they see them?”


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