Sorry, Big Insurance Corporations, Climate Change Is Not Causing Record Disasters

Large insurance corporations stand to make huge profits by using the excuse of climate change risks to raise rates, regardless of whether the climate fears actually materialize. Despite this financial self-interest in inflating climate fears, the mainstream media are trumpeting new and misleading claims by insurance giant Munich Re that climate change caused record disasters in 2020. The truth is that weather- and climate-related disasters are declining as the Earth modestly warms.

Reuters, CNBC, the New York Times, and many other prominent media outlets published articles today uncritically promoting a new Munich Re paper claiming 2020 was a record year for climate change disasters. The Munich Re paper reads as a thinly disguised sales pitch, stoking alarm about weather events and telling readers they can have more peace of mind and financial stability if they simply spend more money on the insurance policies that pad Munich Re’s billions of dollars in annual profits.

As documented in Climate at a Glance: Hurricanes, Climate at a Glance: Tornadoes, Climate at a Glance: Floods, Climate at a Glance: Drought, etc., the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and objective data report no increase in extreme weather events. Predictions of more extreme weather remain just that – predictions. Scientific data and the scientific “consensus” reveal no real-world increase in extreme weather events to date.

Munich Re claims the United States had the world’s most disaster losses in 2020. The costliest American disaster of 2020 was Hurricane Laura. However, hurricanes have always been weather feature in the United States, and even the United Nations acknowledges it cannot find any credible evidence of worsening hurricane activity in the United States. Accordingly, Munich Re cannot plausibly claim climate change caused Hurricane Laura, even if such claims empower the insurance industry to charge higher insurance premiums.

The reason the United States leads the world in disaster losses is because the United States is a wealthy, geographically large country. Generally, more disasters will occur in large nations than small nations, and the dollar value of the losses will be higher in wealthier countries with more valuable homes, commercial buildings, and infrastructure than in Third World nations.

Also, inflation, as well as the annually rising quality and value of technology and property amenities will make a disaster in 2020 much costlier in reported dollar losses than in 2010, 2000, 1990, or other prior years. By and large, the number and severity of natural disasters such as hurricanes (tropical cyclones) and wildfires have either declined or show no increasing trend in recent decades. The higher costs of these disasters is due to demographic trends in which greater numbers of people are putting themselves and increasingly valuable property in harm’s way and by moving to areas historically prone to natural disaster.

Regarding hurricanes, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports there is, “only low confidence for the attribution of any detectable changes in tropical cyclone activity to anthropogenic influences.” And data from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), reported in Climate at a Glance: Hurricanes, details that in the United States, hurricane impacts have in recent years been at an all-time low.

“The United States recently went more than a decade (2005 through 2017) without a major hurricane measuring Category 3 or higher, which is the longest such period in recorded history. The United States also recently experienced the fewest number of hurricane strikes in any eight-year period (2009 through 2017) in recorded history,” notes Climate at a Glance: Hurricanes.

And, discussed in a recent Climate Realism article, Ryan Maue, chief scientist the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, reports global tropical cyclone Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE), a measure of global hurricane power, displays slight downward trend over the past 30-years (See the Figure below).

Global Tropical Accumulated Cyclone Energy from 1989 to 2020. Graph by Dr. Ryan Maue.

And NOAA reports it has found no detectable climate-change impact on Atlantic Ocean hurricanes, which includes U.S. hurricanes, stating, “[t]herefore, we conclude that it is premature to conclude with high confidence that increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations from human activities have had a detectable impact on Atlantic basin hurricane activity.”

Regarding wildfires, long-term data show the number of wildfires and acreage consumed by wildfires has declined dramatically over the past century. Indeed, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service reports, “2020 was one of the lowest years for active fires globally.”

And NASA recently reported that its satellite measurements show wildfires globally declined by 24 percent since 1998, with the total, the global amount of area burned decline declined by more than 540,000 square miles annually, from 1.9 million square miles in the early part of 20th century to 1.4 million square miles today.

Sorry, Munich Re, but the data are clear. The modest warming of the past century and a half has not led to any measurable increase in natural disasters, with some even declining in number. As such, one must ask, if not climate change, why are the costs of natural disasters rising? The answer is clear: Demographic changes and economic changes.

H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is the Director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News. In addition to directing The Heartland Institute's Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, Burett puts Environment & Climate News together, is the editor of Heartland's Climate Change Weekly email, and the host of the Environment & Climate News Podcast.

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