Insurance and Climate Change column

Last Year Was Among Earth’s 3 Hottest Years on Record, Climate Report Shows

By | August 13, 2020

Last year will be remembered as among the world’s hottest, while greenhouse gases reached their highest levels on record, according to the 30th annual State of the Climate report.

The international annual review of the world’s climate, led by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information and published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is based on contributions from more than 520 scientists in 60-plus nations.

Findings from the report include:

  • Last year the globally averaged annual surface temperature was 0.79°–1.00°F above the 1981–2010 average, while NOAA and NASA both found 2019 to be the second-hottest year on record (behind 2016). The U.K.’s Met Office ranked 2019 as the third-hottest year (behind 2016 and 2015).
  • Major greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere – including carbon dioxide (CO²), methane and nitrous oxide – reached another record in 2019. The global annual average atmospheric CO² concentration was 409.8 parts per million, 2.5 ppm greater than 2018 amounts and was the highest in the modern 61-year measurement record.
  • Sea surface temperature was the second highest on record, surpassed only by the record El Niño year of 2016.
  • For the eighth consecutive year, global average sea level rose to a new record high and was about 3.4 inches higher than the 1993 average, the beginning of the satellite altimeter record. Global sea level is rising at an average rate of 1.3 inches per decade.
  • The annual mean surface air temperature for the Arctic land areas was the second highest in the 120-year record, trailing only 2016. In the Antarctic, 2019 was the second warmest year for the continent as a whole since the start of the reanalysis record in 1979, surpassing 2018 and behind only 1980.

Economic Cost of Climate Change

Multi-billion-dollar weather disasters fueled by climate change are becoming more frequent and more devastating to state and local economies, according to a report out this week from Datu Research.

The report, Climate Fueled Weather Disasters: Costs to State and Local Economies, was commissioned by Environmental Defense Fund.

It attempts to quantify the economic cost of specific extreme weather disasters on Americans today, including in specific states, as well as likely future costs if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated and global temperatures continue to climb. Each of the weather events detailed in the report caused damages equaling or exceeding $1 billion in states like Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Iowa.

“Earth’s warming climate is fueling the increasing frequency and intensity of weather and climate disasters,” the report states. “A growing body of climate science research suggests connections between anthropogenic climate change and worsening extreme weather events, including hurricanes, floods, severe storms with tornadoes, winter storms, freezes, droughts, and wildfires.”

The report’s authors say their findings make it “clear the need to invest in bold action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Harbingers of the future, these costs are borne by homeowners, businesses, farmers, ranchers, taxpayers, and government. In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially, federal, state, and local governments will be hard-pressed to provide adequate resources for response and recovery from weather disasters,” the report states. “As of this writing, COVID-19 federal aid is estimated to be in the range of $1 trillion to $3 trillion. Even before the pandemic, federal and state disaster resources were already strained, with climate change-fueled extreme weather events increasing in frequency and intensity, and more people living in at-risk locations.”

The report notes that the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that between 2005 and 2019, the federal government, including FEMA and other agencies, has spent at least $450 billion on weather disaster assistance, an average of $30 billion per year.

“It is easy to imagine that, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, a similar level of aid may not be available for weather disaster assistance,” the report states.

Insured Property Losses

Global insured property losses from disasters were $31 billion in the first half of 2020, up from $23 billion during the same period last year, according to Swiss Re Institute’s sigma estimates.

Natural catastrophes accounted for $28 billion of the insured losses compared with $19 billion reported in the first half of 2019, according to the report, which was covered this week in Insurance Journal.

Global economic losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in the first half of 2020 were $75 billion, up from $57 billion reported for the same period last year, but well below the average first-half economic loss of $112 billion reported during the past 10 years, the report shows.

Additionally, natural catastrophes accounted for $72 billion during the first half, up from $52 billion in the same period in 2019. The remaining $3 billion of economic losses were caused by man-made disasters, down from US$5 billion for the first half of 2019.

Of the overall economic costs ($75 billion), around 40%, or $31 billion, were covered by insurance. During the previous 10 years, insured claims during the first half averaged US$36 billion.

“Around 60% of natural catastrophe losses in the first half of 2020 were uninsured,” Jerome Jean Haegeli, Swiss Re Group’s chief economist, said in a statement. “As the severity of secondary perils will likely increase in the coming years, the importance of the insurance industry in closing natural catastrophe protection gaps is very clear. Climate change is a systemic risk and unlike COVID-19 it doesn’t have an expiry date.”

The main driver of the first half losses were secondary perils, said Swiss Re, noting that in North America, severe convective storms (or thunderstorms with tornadoes, floods and hail) caused insured losses of more than US$21 billion. The report said this was the highest since the first half of 2011 when losses from this peril alone were around US$30 billion.

Woolly Rhinos

Ancient DNA evidence shows that the woolly rhinoceros went extinct not because of human hunters but due to climate change, a new study shows.

The study, based on sequencing ancient DNA from the well-preserved remains of 14 woolly rhinos, appeared this week in the journal Current Biology.

The woolly rhino (Coelodonta antiquitatis) was a cold-adapted megaherbivore that was widely distributed across northern Eurasia during the Late Pleistocene. It became extinct roughly 14,000 years ago.

The study’s findings show of a stable population size of the rhinos until at least 18,000 years ago, suggesting the final decline toward extinction was rapid and started within the 4,500 years prior to the extinction.

The “severe and rapid demographic decline,” which is based on radiocarbon evidence likely coincided with the Bølling-Allerød interstadial, an abrupt warm and moist period from 14,690 to 12,890 years before the present, could imply that the extinction of woolly rhino was primarily driven by the changes in climate and vegetation characteristic of the period.

Across Eurasia, the Bølling-Allerød interstadial was characterized by an increase in forest habitats and woody plant cover, and the replacement of low-growing vegetation by shrub-tundra and tree biomes in Siberia during the warm Bølling-Allerød interstadial, combined with increased snowfall [39], likely led to the extinction of the woolly rhino, according to the report.

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Latest Comments

  • August 17, 2020 at 11:51 am
    John Creamer says:
    Good to know about the Wooly Rhinos and the Bolling-Allerod warming.
  • August 14, 2020 at 6:37 pm
    Rosenblatt says:
    I can't believe I even have to say this, but thank you for agreeing altimeters measure height and thermometers measure temperature. I hope you're not still waiting for my apol... read more
  • August 14, 2020 at 5:20 pm
    Craig Winston Cornell says:
    My bad. I confused Platinum Resistance Thermometers with Satellite Altimeter Records. My point is the same, though: the record of either global temperatures OR sea level rise ... read more

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