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Global Warming Drives Up Weather-Related Insurance Claims

Five-fold increase reported in United States

Common Dreams staff

2012 has, so far, had the most extreme weather in the lower 48 states, according to the Climate Extremes Index. (Graph: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / National Climatic Data Center.)

Weather-related insurance losses in North America have "nearly quintupled" since 1980, due in part to global warming, the global reinsurance giant Munich Re reported Wednesday.

"Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident in North America," a release from Peter Hoppe of Munich Re's Geo Risks Research Group stated, compared to a four-fold increase in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe and 1.5 in South America.

So far, 2012 has shown the most extreme weather on record in the lower 48 states, according to the National Climatic Data Center, which noted in particular "large-scale heat waves and a massive drought."

Insured losses from weather catastrophes in North America between 1980 and 2011 totaled $510 billion. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 alone was responsible for $62.2 billion in losses.

But while previous studies have shown losses due primarily to socioeconomic factors such as population growth and urban sprawl, reported that the most controversial finding is that the increase in weather-related claims is due in part to manmade global warming.

Climate change particularly affects formation of heatwaves, droughts, "intense precipitation events" and likely tropical cyclone intensity.

Of the connection between global warming and weather-related insurance claims, Hoppe said, "Previously there had not been such a strong chain of evidence. If the first effects of climate change are already perceptible, all alerts and measures against it have become even more pressing."

Climate change-related hazards are not automatically reflected in insurance premiums, and Hoppe said that "to realize a sustainable model of insurance, it is crucially important for us as risk managers to learn about this risk of change and find improved solutions for adaptation, but also mitigation. We should prepare for the weather risk changes that lie ahead, and nowhere more so than in North America."

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