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Weather Disasters as Proportion of Global GDP: 1990-2017

January 5, 2018

By Paul Homewood


A reminder from Roger Pielke Jr that weather disasters as a proportion of GDP continues to trend downwards, despite the spike in 2017, largely as a consequence of Hurricane Harvey.


The figure above shows the annual costs of weather disasters (data from Munich Re) as a proportion of global GDP (data from the UN), from 1990 to 2017.


  • 2017 ranks 2nd to 2005;
  • The dataset is dominated by US hurricanes (accounting for about 70% of losses);
  • The trend from 1990 to 2017 is downward;
  • Mean and median are both 0.24%;
  • 6 of past 10 years have been below average;

The most important caveat: don’t use disasters to argue about trends in climate. Use climate data. Duh. (Pielke 2015 below has an accessible summary of IPCC conclusions on trends in weather extremes. See also IPCC SREX and AR5 .) Trends in the incidence of extreme weather help to explain this graph as the world has experienced a long stretch of good fortune (see Pielke 2017, linked below).

  1. Jack Broughton permalink
    January 5, 2018 11:58 am

    When the US action groups have homogenised and smoothed the data it will show that disaster costs are rocketing and make all the papers!

  2. Joe Public permalink
    January 5, 2018 12:41 pm

    Note the subtle differences in wording insurance resellers Munich Re uses as sales-promotion material:

    4 January 2017 | Reinsurance
    Press release
    Natural catastrophe losses at their highest for four years
    A number of devastating earthquakes and powerful storms made 2016 the costliest twelve months for natural catastrophe losses in the last four years. Losses totalled US$ 175bn, a good two-thirds more than in the previous year, and very nearly as high as the figure for 2012 (US$ 180bn). The share of uninsured losses – the so-called protection or insurance gap – remained substantial at around 70%. Almost 30% of the losses, some US$ 50bn, were insured.

    Now fast forward:

    Natural Disasters
    Hurricanes cause record losses in 2017 – The year in figures
    In terms of overall losses, 2017 was the second-costliest year ever for natural disasters. Losses from weather-related disasters broke all previous records.

    Petra Löw

  3. Broadlands permalink
    January 5, 2018 1:14 pm

    Are these costs adjusted for inflation, especially for comparison with 20th century natural disasters?

  4. R2Dtoo permalink
    January 5, 2018 3:28 pm

    A quick glance at the percentages actually involved puts this in perspective. Also notice that they don’t tie this to their profit/loss over the year. Insurance (and re-insurance) companies are doing very well – a real shame that they had to “cover” a whopping 30% of total damages (sarc). Buffet put this in perspective a couple of years ago when he openly admitted that Katrina had allowed an increase in rates and then the USA had more than a decade without major hurricanes (cha-ching!). He owns Geico – a huge cash-cow. Nice to see Dr. Pielke back in action – an honest broker (pun intended).

    • dave permalink
      January 5, 2018 5:46 pm

      Meanwhile, ‘La Nina’ looks like she wants to hang around!

  5. Bulaman permalink
    January 6, 2018 12:37 am

    La Nina is gone according BOM in Australia

    • Bitter@twisted permalink
      January 6, 2018 9:28 am

      BOM, like the BBC vomits fake news.

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