By Dr. John Happs
Climate alarmists often make the claim that (imaginary) global warming is already resulting in more extreme weather events. They cite escalating insurance claims following fire or flood as evidence. The link between extreme weather and an increasing number of insurance claims can easily be examined to determine if, in this particular case, correlation actually does mean causation.
From England, Nick Oldridge writes in his article “Insurance and Climate Change”
“With climate change set to be one of the greatest risks of them all, insurers stand to be impacted in significant and far-reaching ways. The Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority has identified three key areas of risk for the insurance industry, many of which are already happening.”
“The first of these is known as physical impact risk, which relates to the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events across the globe. The specific types of weather events include hurricanes, extreme precipitation, tornadoes, landslides, mudflows, drought, wildfires, heat waves, flash floods and rising sea levels.”
From Canada, Weatherfarm reported that weather-related insurance claims hit a record high in 2013 with:
“The Insurance Bureau of Canada reporting a record total of $3.2 billion in severe weather-related insured losses in 2013 – after four years in a row in which natural disaster-related losses topped $1 billion.”
The Weatherfarm report added:
“Intact Financial Corp., Canada’s biggest property and casualty insurance provider, was quoted by Reuters in November as saying it expected to boost homeowner insurance premiums by 15 to 20 per cent in most provinces to handle higher claims.”
Reporting from New Zealand in 2017 Julie Iles quoted Insurance Council Chief Executive Tim Grafton as saying:
“The $242m in insurance losses were a clear sign of the impact climate change is having on our country”.
“As time goes on, we expect to see more of these sorts of extreme weather events occurring.”
Writing for The Guardian, Damian Carrington said that the ClimateWise coalition of 29 insurers, including Allianz, Aon, Aviva, Lloyd’s, Prudential, Swiss Re and Zurich, produced a report saying:
“Since the 1950s, the frequency of weather-related catastrophes has increased sixfold.”
We were told that:
“The economic impact of these natural catastrophes is growing quickly, according to Swiss Re, with total losses increasing fivefold since the 1980s to about $170bn today.”
In 2019 Julien Vincent, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, claimed to have identified the source of those extreme weather problems:
“AXA, Allianz, Aviva, Lloyds, Munich Re, SCOR and Swiss Re are among those to have divested from coal companies from their investment portfolios, and/or restricted underwriting to the coal industry.”
“These actions are undertaken on the basis that it is incongruent for insurance companies whose business models are at exposed to the physical climate change impacts to be invested in or actively supporting the source of the problem.”
In what would be news to most scientists, German re-insurer Munich Re claims to have evidence that human-induced climate change is leading to more weather catastrophes. The company asserts that natural disasters over the last few decades show the “footprint” of anthropogenic climate change in North America.
What is surprising is that any insurance company can claim to know more about the causes of extreme weather than the community of climate scientists. Dr. Roger Peilke Jr. has criticised companies such as Munich Re for making public their alarmist statements on extreme weather. Peilke retorted:
“If Munich Re believes it has found the footprint of human-caused climate change in disaster data, then they should prepare a scientific paper and send it to Science or Nature, where it would be a major finding.”
“Releasing such claims via promotional press release suggests otherwise.”
It is no surprise that green activists, media commentators, politicians and other vested interest groups have promoted the baseless idea that human-produced carbon dioxide has increased the number and intensity of extreme weather events.
For instance, European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard said:
“More intense weather extremes have become a “new reality” and climate change is the “new normal.”
But what does the evidence really tell us?
Media outlets are likely to report on loss projections whilst ignoring what Bouwer et al. reported:
“Societal change and economic development are mainly responsible for increasing losses.”
And what do those scientists who have no vested interest in promoting climate alarm say? Dr. Michael Kelly from Cambridge University reflects:
“It is widely promulgated and believed that human-caused global warming comes with increases in both the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. A survey of official weather sites and the scientific literature provides strong evidence that the first half of the 20thcentury had more extreme weather than the second half, when anthropogenic global warming is claimed to have been mainly responsible for observed climate change.”
There are numerous peer-reviewed, published papers that attest to the fact that we are currently experiencing a period of remarkable climate stability and many of those papers can be located at:
Of more interest are the statements about extreme weather from the (usually alarmist) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In its 2018 report, much like its 2013 report, the IPCC reported that there is no evidence to show that drought, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes have increased, despite rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
The IPCC’s Working Group II AR5 said:
“Apart from detection, loss trends have not been conclusively attributed to anthropogenic climate change; most such claims are not based on scientific attribution methods.” (AR5 10.7.3)
On tropical cyclones, the IPCC reported:
“There is low confidence in any observed long-term (i.e., 40 years or more) increases in tropical cyclone activity (i.e., intensity, frequency, duration), after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities.” [3.3.2, 3.3.3, 3.4.4, 3.4.5]
“Over periods of a century or more, evidence suggests slight decreases in the frequency of tropical cyclones making landfall in the North Atlantic and the South Pacific.”
Callaghan and Power (2011) find a statistically significant decrease in Eastern Australia land-falling tropical cyclonessince the late 19th century
On tornadoes and hail, the IPCC reports:
“There is low confidence in observed trends in small spatial-scale phenomena such as tornadoes and hail because of data inhomogeneities and inadequacies in monitoring systems.” [3.3.2, 3.3.3, 3.4.4, 3.4.5]
On droughts, the IPCC reported:
“There is medium confidence that some regions of the world have experienced more intense and longer droughts, in particular in southern Europe and West Africa, but in some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense, or shorter, for example, in central North America and northwestern Australia.” [3.5.1]
On floods, the IPCC reports:
“There is limited to medium evidence available to assess climate-driven observed changes in the magnitude and frequency of floods at regional scales because the available instrumental records of floods at gauge stations are limited in space and time, and because of confounding effects of changes in land use and engineering. Furthermore, there is low agreement in this evidence, and thus overall low confidence at the global scale regarding even the sign of these changes.” [3.5.2]
Taking a rational look at specific instances of so-called climate related disasters reveals quite a different story to those promoted by climate alarmists.
Contrary to recent alarmist claims, flooding in Venice has long been a regular occurrence since the Adriatic tectonic plate is being subducted beneath the Apennine Mountains. Adding to the already natural subsidence of Venice, urgent engineering of the city foundations and flood prevention measures are long overdue. Flooding will continue to be a problem in Venice because of procrastination and neglect.
The 2014 flooding in Somerset, England is known to have been exacerbated by “green legislation” that prevented the dredging of waterways, allowing vegetation and silt to accumulate. The Spectator noted:
“The unprecedented scale of this mess is not just due to nature. It is a disaster that has resulted from a deliberate policy followed by the Environment Agency since, 18 years ago, it was given overall responsibility for river management and flood defences throughout England.”
The recent flooding in Yorkshire, England also resulted from the Environment Agency ignoring repeated warnings, issued since 2007, that a similar lack of maintenance along the River Don would lead to serious flooding.
Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. reflected on the hurricane – economic loss link:
“Anyone wanting to understand trends in US mainland hurricanes should look at data on US mainland hurricanes, not economic data on losses.”
Factual information shows that the planet is not experiencing any increase in extreme weather events such as droughts, hurricanes or tornadoes. Yet the evidence from insurance companies also appears to be clear that severe weather-related insurance claims are increasing.
We can now see that both claims are valid but not for the reasons some insurance companies, politicians, climate alarmists and other vested interest groups would have us believe.
The 2014 IPCC report: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (Working Group II Fifth Assessment Report) highlighted the real cause of increasing losses:
“Economic growth, including greater concentrations of people and wealth in periled areas and rising insurance penetration, is the most important driver of increasing losses… loss trends have not been conclusively attributed to anthropogenic climate change.”
In fact more people are living in areas that are exposed to natural disasters. People choose to build near old lava flows, produced by still-active volcanoes:
People choose to build close to earthquake fault lines:
Millions of people around the world live on the flanks of dormant stratovolcanoes:
People choose to build in fire-prone areas:
People choose to build on flood plains:
People choose to build on eroding coastlines:
People choose to build on subsiding coastal land:
Because of increasing global prosperity, people now have more assets to lose. There is no evidence to show that anthropogenic global warming aka climate change has had any impact on losses from natural disasters.
Research into normalised insurance losses from Australian natural disasters (1966-2017) showed:
“When aggregated by season, there is no trend in normalised losses from weather-related perils; in other words, after we normalise for changes we know to have taken place, no residual signal remains to be explained by changes in the occurrence of extreme weather events, regardless of cause.”
“In sum, the rising cost of natural disasters is being driven by where and how we chose to live and with more people living in vulnerable locations with more to lose, natural disasters remain an important problem irrespective of a warming climate.”
IPCC contributing scientist Dr. Indur Goklany puts extreme weather events and deaths in perspective:
“Not only do “extreme weather events” account for a tiny fraction of deaths — five one-hundredths of one percent — but the rate at which angry weather kills people has been falling steadily and continues to do so from the last decade to this.”
The International Disaster Database shows this:
In 2018 Dr. Bjorn Lomborg summed up:
“Notice that the reduction in absolute deaths has happened while the global population has increased four-fold. The individual risk of dying from climate-related disasters has declined by 98.9%. Last year, fewer people died in climate disasters than at any point in the last three decades.”
The emotive claim that an (imaginary) increase in extreme weather is responsible for more deaths and property loss does not stand up to even the most cursory examination.
Dr. John Happs M.Sc.1st Class; D.Phil. John has an academic background in the geosciences with special interests in climate, and paleoclimate. He has been a science educator at several universities in Australia and overseas and was President of the Western Australian Skeptics for 25 years.