Insurer Warns of Global Warming Catastrophe
By Thomas Atkins
Saturday 06 March 2004
GENEVA - The world's second-largest reinsurer Swiss Re warns that the costs of global warming
threaten to spiral out of control, forcing the human race into a catastrophe of its own making.
In a report revealing how climate change is rising on the corporate agenda, Swiss Re said the
economic costs of global warming threatened to double to $150 billion (81 billion pounds) a year in 10
years, hitting insurers with $30-40 billion in claims, or the equivalent of one World Trade Centre attack
"There is a danger that human intervention will accelerate and intensify natural climate changes to
such a point that it will become impossible to adapt our socio-economic systems in time," Swiss Re
said in the report.
"The human race can lead itself into this climatic catastrophe - or it can avert it."
The report comes as a growing number of policy experts warn that the environment is emerging as
the security threat of the 21st century, eclipsing terrorism.
Scientists expect global warming to trigger increasingly frequent and violent storms, heat waves,
flooding, tornadoes, and cyclones while other areas slip into cold or drought.
"Sea levels will continue to rise, glaciers retreat and snow cover decline," the insurer wrote.
Losses to insurers from environmental events have risen exponentially over the past 30 years, and
are expected to rise even more rapidly still, said Swiss Re climate expert Pamela Heck.
"Scientists tell us that certain extreme events are going to increase in intensity and frequency in
the future," Heck told Reuters by telephone. "Climate change is very much in the mind of the insurance
Over the past century, the average global temperature has increased by 0.6 degrees Centigrade,
the largest rise for the northern hemisphere in the past 1,000 years, Swiss Re said.
In the short- and medium-term, simply knowing that the planet is warming will allow society to
adapt, for example, through infrastructure to cope with more-frequent floods or by instructing farmers to
use drought-resistent cereals.
In other cases, governments need to restrict risk-taking, such as approving housing developments
in low-lying areas, and improve catastrophe management capabilities.
In the long term, Swiss Re said, greenhouse gases widely thought to trigger global warming will
need to be reduced, the use of fossil fuels cut and new energy technologies developed.
"The role of the insurance industry is through establishing risk adequate tariffs and to give the risk
taker the opportunity to implement appropriate measures to reduce the chance of possible losses,"
Go to Original
2003 Likely Europe's Hottest in 500 Years
By The Associated Press
Friday 05 March 2004
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Last year's deadly summer in Europe probably was the hottest on the
continent in at least five centuries, according to researchers who analyzed old records, soil cores and
other evidence. More than 19,000 people died.
Researchers at the University of Bern, Switzerland, collected and analyzed temperature data from
all over Europe, including such climate measures as tree rings from 1500. They found that the climate
has been generally warming and last summer was the most torrid of all.
"When you consider Europe as a whole, it was by far the hottest," said Jurg Luterbacher,
climatologist and the first author of a study appearing this week in the journal Science.
Luterbacher said the study showed that European winters are also warmer now. The average winter
and annual temperatures during the three decades from 1973 to 2002 were the warmest of the half
millennium, he said.
Some studies have linked rising average temperatures in North America and elsewhere to global
warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels, but Luterbacher said his team did not attempt to make
such a connection.
"We don't make any analysis of the human influence," he said. "We don't attempt to determine the
cause. We only report what we find."
Other climatologists, however, say the new study agrees with models that have predicted a steady
rise in global temperature as the result of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere from the
burning of fossil fuels and other sources.
Stephen Schneider, a climate expert at Stanford University and a prominent advocate for the theory
of human-caused global warming, said the Luterbacher paper is consistent with what climate modelers
have been predicting for 20 years.
"The data is starting to line up showing that those projections were correct," Schneider said. "We
warned the world that this was likely to happen because we believed the theory, but couldn't actually
prove it was happening. Now the data is coming in."
In the study, Luterbacher and his team analyzed the temperature history of Europe starting in 1500
to the present. For the earliest part of the half millennium, the figures are estimates based on proxy
measures, such as tree rings and soil cores. But after about 1750, he said, instrumented readings
became generally available throughout Europe.
During the 500 years, there were trends both toward cool and toward hot. The second hottest
summer in the period was in 1757. That was followed by a cooling trend that continued until early in the
20th century. The summer of 1902, for instance, was the coolest of the entire record.
Starting in 1977, the record shows "an exceptionally strong, unprecedented warming," the
researchers report, with average temperatures rising at the rate of about 0.36 degrees per decade.
Then came last summer.
"The summer of 2003 exceeded 1901 to 1995 European summer temperatures by around 2 degrees
C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit)," the study said. "Taking into account the uncertainties (in the study
method), it appears that the summer of 2003 was very likely warmer than any other summer back to
Record temperatures were recorded in most of the major cities of Europe last summer, with many
readings over 100 degrees. Authorities have attributed thousands of deaths to the excess heat, making
the heat wave one of the deadliest weather phenomena in the past century.
In France, the toll was estimated at about 14,802 dead. About 2,000 more than normal died in
August in England and Wales. On Aug. 11, Britain's hottest day on record, there were 363 more
deaths than average and the temperature reading reached 101.3 in Brogdale in southeastern England.
Altogether in Europe, based on official numbers collected by The Associated Press, there were
more than 19,000 excess deaths in the summer months. France was hardest hit, but the average
number of summer deaths increased by 4,175 in Italy, 1,300 in Portugal and more than 1,000 in the
The intense heat also wilted crops, caused wildfires and continued a centurylong trend of melting
the continent's glaciers.
Luterbacher said some mountain glaciers have shrunk by 50 percent in the past century in Europe,
and some ice fields lost 10 percent of their mass last summer alone.
In addition, he said, the long trend of warming temperatures is now melting the high altitude
permafrost -- the soil that usually remains frozen year-round -- and that some buildings, bridges and
roadways are now threatened with unstable foundations.
And it may get worse, said Luterbacher. He said some studies forecast that if the warming trend
continues, Europe may have summers like 2003 every other year starting late in this century.