Disaster losses in 2020 jump 25% to $187 billion - Swiss Re

Swiss Re cautioned that climate change was expected to exacerbate such perils, driving more extreme weather events such as wildfires and floods.

A Pacific Gas and Electric firefighter walks down a road as flames approach in Fairfield, California during the LNU Lightning Complex fire on 19 August 2020.  Picture: AFP

ZURICH - Total losses from natural and man-made disasters so far this year are estimated at $187 billion (154 billion euros), up 25% from 2019, the reinsurance giant Swiss Re said Tuesday.

A full $175 billion were from natural catastrophes during a year characterised by unusual numbers of storms, wildfires, and hurricanes, according to preliminary figures.

That marks a hike from 2019 when natural disasters caused losses of $139 billion but remains below the 10-year average of $202 billion.

Insurers covered less than half of the total losses, dishing out $83 billion, making 2020 the fifth-costliest year for the industry since 1970, Swiss Re said in a statement.

Disasters in the United States - severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, floods, and wildfires accounted for a full 70% of the $76 billion which went to cover losses in natural catastrophes.

Swiss Re cautioned that climate change was expected to exacerbate such perils, driving more extreme weather events such as wildfires and floods.

"As with COVID-19, climate change will be a huge test of global resilience," Jerome Jean Haegeli, Swiss Re group chief economist, said in the statement.

"But while COVID-19 has an expiry date, climate change does not, and failure to 'green' the global economic recovery now will increase costs for society in future," he warned.

Swiss Re said its estimates excluded claims related to the coronavirus pandemic.

This year has been marked by an extremely active North Atlantic hurricane season with a record 30 named storms, Swiss Re said.

That includes five that made landfall in the US state of Louisiana alone - another record.

Swiss Re pointed out that most of the US landfalls did not hit densely populated areas this year, meaning insured losses from the hurricanes were relatively low at $20 billion.

That is far lower than during less active hurricane seasons that featured fewer but more devastating storms in the US at least, such as the $97 billion spent by insurers in 2017 to cover losses from Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and $87 billion in 2005 on Katrina.

"Large-scale climate conditions in the North Atlantic suggest elevated hurricane activity for 2021 and likely beyond," Martin Bertogg, head of catastrophe perils at Swiss Re, said in the statement.

"This increases the probability of a catastrophic landfall. Combined with the loss impact of secondary perils accelerated by climate change, insured catastrophe losses will only rise in the future," he warned.

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