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Unstable Climate Did Record Damage in 2017

FEMA/Wikimedia Commons

Record losses to storms, flooding, and wildfires last year underscored warnings that the world is woefully ill-prepared for the escalating impacts of a climate being pushed beyond its familiar range.

“Insurers are set to pay out a record US$135 billion to cover losses from natural disasters in 2017,” the New York Times reports, citing data from Germany’s Munich Re. The world’s largest reinsurer estimated overall damage to be nearly triple the insured amount, at $330 billion, “second only to 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami in Japan contributed to losses of $354 billion in today’s dollars.”

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But the German reinsurer’s guess may even be on the low side, if figures published [2] by Time magazine are accurate. “With three strong hurricanes, wildfires, hail, flooding, tornadoes, and drought,” the New York-based magazine notes, “the United States tallied a record high bill last year for weather disasters: $306 billion.” That tally “blew past the previous record of $215 billion in 2005.”

“Three of the five most expensive hurricanes in U.S. history hit last year,” Time observes, citing the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Hurricane Harvey [3] cost $125 billion, second only to 2005’s Katrina, while Maria [4] cost $90 billion, ranking third. [Damage from hurricane] Irma [5] was $50 billion, for the fifth most expensive hurricane. Western wildfires fanned by heat racked up $18 billion in damage, triple the previous U.S. wildfire record.”

Munich Re’s estimate also appeared to downplay the extensive damage left behind by weeks of record flooding in south Asia. [6]

The latest reports added urgency to a warning issued last week [7] that civil society faces a looming total of $1.7-trillion over 10 years for uninsured climate-related damage. According to a collection of 28 leading insurance firms, Corporate Knights reported, “the number of natural catastrophes has increased six-fold since 1950, multiplying financial damages incurred [by] 500%.”

The rising cost of climate damage, CK added, “has forced insurance companies to raise rates across the board, leaving many areas of the globe effectively uninsurable.”