NU Online News Service, Sept. 27, 2:59 p.m. EDT

A total of 725 weather events between January and September this year have caused insured losses of $18 billion and indicate a probable link between the increasing weather extremes and climate change, Munich Re said.

The global reinsurer said weather-related natural catastrophes from January to September have caused total losses of more than $65 billion and have taken around 21,000 lives.

Munich Re said its natural catastrophe database shows a “marked increase” in the number of weather-related events. “For instance, globally there has been a more than threefold increase in loss-related floods since 1980 and more than double the number of windstorm natural catastrophes, with particularly heavy losses as a result of Atlantic hurricanes,” Munich Re said.

Last month, a report by Laurens M. Bouwer, from the Institute for Environmental Studies at Vrije University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, indicated that increases in economic and insured losses in recent decades can be tied to increasing exposures and value of capital at risk, rather than climate change.

Munich Re acknowledged as much in its statement, noting that the rise in natural catastrophe losses “is primarily due to socio-economic factors.” The reinsurer said that populations are rising, more people are moving to exposed areas, and greater prosperity is leading to higher property values.

“Nevertheless,” Munich Re said, “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 [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] Assessment Report.”

While Munich Re said there is, at present, insufficient data on many weather risks and regions to allow “statistically backed assertions” regarding the link with climate change, the reinsurer said “there 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.”

Munich Re pointed to an increasing number of severe tropical cyclones and an increase in heat waves “such as that experienced in Russia this summer.” The reinsurer also said heavy rain and flash floods are affecting people who live “well away from traditionally flood-prone areas.”

Globally, Munich Re said 2010 has been the warmest year since records began over 130 years ago. The 10 warmest years during that period have all occurred within the last 12 years.

Major weather events this year have included floods in Central Europe, wildfires in Russia and flooding in Pakistan, Munich Re said.