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Report: Most Expensive Natural Disasters in 2011 Were Unrelated to Climate and Weather

"Disasters are a tempting image for advocacy..."

Japan Earthquake TsunamiAccording to a report from Munich Re, a reinsurance group in Germany, 2011 was a record year for costly natural disasters. Racking up $380 billion in economic losses, disasters last year cost more than two times that of the disasters in 2010.

While proponents of man-made global warming believe that the changing climate will increase the number of natural disasters, resulting in expenses and loss of life, this report shows that it's all about location -- not necessarily cause or number. Of the 820 natural disasters worldwide last year, only two events account for two-thirds of the total economic loss and they are not attributable to "climate change" or weather.

The two events in the first half of last year comprising the majority of the cost were the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that caused a devastating tsunami in Japan in March and the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that hit New Zealand in February.

Nature has more analysis on why natural disasters are getting more expensive:

And the long-term rise in the costs of global disasters is probably due mainly to socio-economic changes, such as population growth and development in vulnerable regions. That conclusion is backed up by a forthcoming study--supported by Munich Re--by economists Fabian Barthel and Eric Neumayer at the London School of Economics. Their analysis of events worldwide between 1990 and 2008 concludes that "the accumulation of wealth in disaster-prone areas is and will always remain by far the most important driver of future economic disaster damage" (F. Barthel and E. Neumayer Climatic Change; in the press). Any major weather event hitting densely populated areas now causes huge losses because the value of the infrastructure has increased tremendously, they note, adding that if the 1926 Great Miami hurricane happened today, for example, it would cause much more damage than it did at the time.

The report describes the total number of disasters as "in line" with the average number of natural disasters expected each year, but notes that disasters caused by weather have tripled over the last 30 years. The report states that 90 percent of the natural disasters last year were caused by weather. Though disasters caused by weather did not comprise the majority of the expense last year, the report states weather-related disasters usually are the most costly.

A 2008 Natural Resources Defense Council report states that the U.S. should expect more than $500 trillion in damages from global warming-related natural disasters, if abatement techniques are not put in place to drastically reduce emission levels. A more recent study by National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy for Canada states that the country could lose as much as $5 billion in 2020 from climate change-related weather events affecting public health and prosperity.

"It would not seem plausible that climate change doesn't play a role in the substantial rise in weather-related disasters," says Ernst Rauch, head of Munich Re's Corporate Climate Centre.

But Nature notes that metrics attributing natural disasters, and their subsequent economic losses, to global warming are not yet reliable.

"Disasters are a tempting image for advocacy, but the science is just not there to support strong claims," Roger Pielke Jr, a climate-policy researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in a separate Nature article. "We cannot yet attribute increasing dollar losses to human-caused climate change. Maybe we will one day, but not at present."

[H/T Scientific American]

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