27 September 2010

Munich Re Goes too Far

Munich Re, the global resinurance company, has always had a complicated relationship with the science of disasters and climate change due to the emission of greenhouse gases.  On the one hand, its technical staff have published solid work in the peer reviewed literature.  On the other hand, its marketing statements often go beyond what the science can support.

Today, Munich Re went way over the line when it issued a highly misleading press release attributing disasters in 2010 to climate change.  The press release is titled:
Two months prior to Cancun Summit/Large number of weather extremes as strong indication of climate change
The text of the press release would seem to suggest that Munich Re can't back up this claim, other than with empty speculation (emphasis added):
The rise in natural catastrophe losses is primarily due to socio-economic factors. In many countries, populations are rising, and more and more people moving into exposed areas. At the same time, greater prosperity is leading to higher property values. Nevertheless, it would seem that the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change. The view that weather extremes are more frequent and intense due to global warming coincides with the current state of scientific knowledge as set out in the Fourth IPCC Assessment Report.

There are at present insufficient data on many weather risks and regions to permit statistically backed assertions regarding the link with climate change.
The press release then goes on to list a number of phenomena that it asserts are being driven by climate change:
[T]here is evidence that, as a result of warming, events associated with severe windstorms, such as thunderstorms, hail and cloudbursts, have become more frequent in parts of the USA, southwest Germany and other regions. The number of very severe tropical cyclones is also increasing. One direct result of warming is an increase in heatwaves such as that experienced in Russia this summer. There are also indications of a higher incidence of atmospheric conditions causing air mass formation on the north side of the Alps and low-lying mountain ranges, a phenomenon which can result in floods. Heavy rain and flash floods are affecting not only people living close to rivers but also those who live well away from traditionally flood-prone areas.
The actual state of the science is that no connection has been shown between greenhouse gas emissions and thunderstorms, tropical cyclones, Russian heatwaves or European floods.  Regrettably, Munich Re has made a jump from making a tenuous assertion to propagating incorrect information.

The press release concludes with this statement:
In the two months preceding the World Climate Summit, Munich Re will be drawing attention to the climate change issue with a series of communications and publications. The ERGO Insurance Group and MEAG, the asset manager of ERGO and Munich Re, are also planning to issue press releases in the next few weeks on insurance products related to natural catastrophes and renewable energy as well as business activities designed to reduce carbon emissions.
Enough said.