New paper by Pielke Jr. – weather related disasters are decreasing in costs

This new paper from Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. is likely not going to be popular with the doomer crowd, because it takes the wind out of their sails when it comes to exclaiming that “Climate change is making the weather worse!”. Here’s his impetus from the paper:

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations are supported by a global indicator framework comprised of 232 indicators.1 Included under SDG Goal 1 to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’ and Goal 11 ‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’ is an indicator focused on disaster losses.

There are two specific goals under the SDGs with an explicit focus on disaster losses.
First, 1.5 states:

‘By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters.’ An associated indicator is (1.5.2) ‘Direct economic loss attributed to disasters in relation to global gross domestic product

Second, 11.5:

By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations.

An associated indicator (11.5.2) is:

‘Direct economic loss in relation to global GDP, damage to critical infrastructure and number of disruptions to basic services, attributed to disasters.’

To date, there has been no formal analysis of progress with respect to this particular indicator in the peer-reviewed literature. (bold mine) This short analysis has one narrow objective: to identify and share data that allows the tracking of progress with respect to global direct economic losses in relation to global GDP for all disasters and for the subset which is related to weather or climate.

And indeed, he does that, and these two graphs pretty much say it all:

Figure 2. Overall global disaster losses as a percentage of global GDP.


Figure 3. Weather disaster losses as a percentage of global GDP.

Note that in 2005 we had Hurricane Katrina, and in 2017 we had Hurricane Harvey, which account for the majority of those spikes in those years. Note also the decade long drought of big disasters in-between.

The paper:

Tracking Progress on the Economic Costs of Disasters Under the Indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals, Environmental Hazards.


The Sustainable Development Goals indicator framework identifies as an indicator of progress the objective of reducing disaster losses as a proportion of global gross domestic product. This short analysis presents data on this indicator from 1990. In constant 2017 US dollars, both weather-related and non-weather related catastrophe losses have increased, with a 74% increase in the former and 182% increase in the latter since 1990. However, since 1990 both overall and weather/climate losses have decreased as proportion of global GDP, indicating progress with respect to the SDG indicator. Extending this trend into the future will require vigilance to exposure, vulnerability and resilience in the face of uncertainty about the future frequency and magnitude of extreme events.

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Bryan A
October 30, 2018 10:20 am

There is far more good to be done by rebuilding damaged areas to better resilience than can be done by increasing the costs of doing so

Reply to  Bryan A
October 30, 2018 5:50 pm

As a prime example is the house built on the beach in the path of the recent hurricane. While all around it were destroyed it suffered a broken and a cracked window.

October 30, 2018 10:47 am

Strictly speaking, weather related disasters are not decreasing in cost.

From the abstract:

In constant 2017 US dollars, both weather-related and non-weather related catastrophe losses have increased, with a 74% increase in the former and 182% increase in the latter since 1990. However, since 1990 both overall and weather/climate losses have decreased as proportion of global GDP …

What has decreased is the cost of disasters as a proportion of GDP. That’s because the world has become wealthier. That has resulted in a huge decrease in extreme poverty. link Everybody, including the poorest, now has more resources to recover from disasters. In other words, they are more resilient, exactly what Goal 11 calls for.

The reason people are becoming wealthier is directly linked to the use of fossil fuels. The alarmists really hate that.

Reply to  commieBob
October 30, 2018 11:22 am

True absolute costs of disasters has increased, but one should normalize the changes with respect to everything else becoming more expensive as well. The costs associated with the damage is a poor proxy for the energy or intensity of the weather event, which is what they are attempting to promote.
Concentrations of wealth in areas that are visited by disasters is increasing, and destroyed buildings cost more to reconstruct now than they did in the past. So the same weather event in the same location as in previous years would do more “cost damage” now merely because the location has improved not because the weather event has become any more destructive.

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  Rocketscientist
October 31, 2018 4:32 am

Rocketscientist – October 30, 2018 at 11:22 am

True absolute costs of disasters has increased, but one should normalize the changes with respect to everything else becoming more expensive as well.

Yup, the cost of inflation.

Iffen I remember correctly, back in the mid-1970’s, one (1) 4’ X 8’ sheet of 3/8” plywood was costing me about $2.30 ….. and 2 x 4 x 8-ft studs were $0.99 each.

Today, the same size plywood at Lowe’s will cost you $16.73 each, …… and a 2 x 4 x 8-ft stud will cost you $3.28 each.

So, the inflated cost of just two construction items, ….. $2.30 verses $16.73 …… and $0.99 verses $3.28.

And the inflated “labor costs” are much, much greater.

Reply to  commieBob
October 30, 2018 12:56 pm

What I’d like to know is the inflation adjusted cost of repairing weather related disaster damage as a proportion of total value of the potentially exposed infrastructure. How is that changing over time?

Of course, such a comparison is still a flawed indicator of total destructive storm energy, because of the brick house vs. straw house issue. Storm resistant buildings suffer less damage in a hurricane.

So what we really want to see is a quantification of total storm energy and how that is changing over time. The guys who calculate those amazingly accurate hurricane track and strength projections might be able to tell us about total hurricane storm energy. Anyone know any of those boys?

Reply to  commieBob
October 30, 2018 4:11 pm

I suppose there is some research I could do if I were interested enough but I will just state the consideration. From what I’ve read in a few places, Katrina and Harvey were extreme federal $ bonanzas for large construction firms, assigned to do a great deal of work intended to (hopefully) reduce damages in the event of a repeat weather performance, not to replace property or repair damage from those storms. I would suggest, if this is true, this is largely more milking of the climate change cow.

Regardless of the excuses, do the large costs for those years expressed in the article’s data remove those extra expenditures and really show just damage costs or are they total expenditures including those that had nothing to do with current damage?

Reply to  commieBob
October 31, 2018 5:24 am

commieBob -I think that one example of the disdain for fossil fuels and their impact on GDP can see in the repeated references, at the time, to “SUPERSTORM SANDY” (whatever a superstorm is) being the second costliest storm ever, with “Climate Change” making the storm worse. Notice in the charts above that 2012 had a lower cost per GDP for weather related events as compared to 2011, and was on trend for all years included in the chart. Now, either GDP significantly increased in 2012 to overcome the “worst ever” storm costs, as compared to 2011, or the media was not telling the full truth (US GDP growth: 2011 1.7%, 2012 2.2%) From this, it is apparent that, once again, facts just get in the way of a good story that supports their agenda.

October 30, 2018 11:05 am

Global overall/weather loses as percent of global GDP: 1990-2017

…the UN/IPCC makes even less sense when you compare those two graphs with this one…same time frame
keeping in mind the graph starts when the UN/IPCC was formed

comment image

Mike Sexton
October 30, 2018 11:31 am

Does anyone else get the google 1000$ winner when they try to get on this site
Hate that thing got it at least 6 times and you can’t get out without backing out of the site
Is it some attempt to limit people on this site

Mickey Reno
Reply to  Mike Sexton
October 30, 2018 12:32 pm

No, I don’t get those pest ads on WUWT because I use Ad-Block Plus. It’s free. Download it and install it from their hosting site:

Reply to  Mike Sexton
October 30, 2018 12:54 pm

I get something similar when I browse this site on my phone (chrome browser on android), but no other time. And when I do get the message, I have to back out or close the tab as well.

Joseph murphy
Reply to  RHS
October 31, 2018 7:23 am

Same, this site, android phone using chrome. I just switch browsers.

Carbon Bigfoot
October 30, 2018 12:12 pm

Mike Sexton:

Get rid of Google–use DuckDuckGo as your browser and delete Chrome–end of problem.

Mike Sexton
Reply to  Carbon Bigfoot
October 30, 2018 1:57 pm

I did

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  Carbon Bigfoot
October 30, 2018 10:52 pm

I did not know what this issue was. I’ve been using DDGo for a couple of years, and MS Edge.
Prior to, I did use Ad-Block Plus.

October 30, 2018 12:47 pm

From the abstract, this looks like a good bit of work – as I would expect from Dr Pielke.

I would just like to say how glad I am that Roger is still working on this. He was treated atrociously by the establishment for questioning the alarmist rhetoric and pointing out that things were not getting worse. Well done for sticking to your guns!

October 30, 2018 2:13 pm

How is the red line drawn on these graphs?
The top graph seems like the trend line should be at least even, maybe even slightly up, but it is down.

Why start only at 1990?

Reply to  TDBraun
October 31, 2018 7:59 am

Seems like rather unclear graphs, it’s not clear what the gray and black bars mean since the key appears to contradict the legends to the figures. It doesn’t define what the red line is, no indication what the correlation coefficient is etc.
I’m certainly not going to spend $50 to read the paper.

October 30, 2018 2:23 pm

It would seem a better proxy for the effects of extreme storms would be human mortality and morbidity normalized to the number of humans living within the affected areas, not economic damages. Others above have pointed out how the economies have expanded and human development has expanded, thus goosing the economic damages of storms that may well be no stronger than historic storms.

The normalized human mortality and morbidity would reflect the actual damage to humans living in the impacted areas, so would remove the effects of increased development, increased cost, and increased population density in the affected areas. Counting total normalized mortality and morbidity would also reflect the increasing ability of humans to adapt to extreme weather events through technology and learning – it is important to account that ability, because that reflects the true human impacts of extreme weather events.

October 30, 2018 2:52 pm

Fran Kelly had someone on Their Aunty (AKA Australian ABC) from the Red Cross hierarchy babbling on about 2017 being an unprecedented disaster year for disasters and everything is getting worse and worse and we are all doomed. I nearly ran of the road I was swearing at them so much!!
The above clearly shows it is an outlier from a decreasing trend – not the unprecedented disaster of disasters.
I will take this link and post it to Their Aunty – Fran Kelly and tell her be a real reporter and engage her brain and get her facts correct BEFORE she puts her foot down on her flapper trap!!

Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
October 30, 2018 4:58 pm

Human deaths associated with weather related disasters have comedown drastically basically because of forecasting period improved and disaster management. However, human greed related weather disasters have increased the sudden human deaths and large scale property losses.

Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

Philip Schaeffer
October 31, 2018 4:49 am

Anthony Watts said:

“This new paper from Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. is likely not going to be popular with the doomer crowd, because it takes the wind out of their sails when it comes to exclaiming that “Climate change is making the weather worse!””

I’m not sure how this makes any sense. If GDP changes over time, then how much can you tell about the weather from what percentage of the GDP weather damage costs you?

If GDP drops, making a given amount of weather damage are larger percentage of that GDP, have you actually learned anything about the weather? Does it indicate that the weather has become more severe?

Steve O
October 31, 2018 9:52 am

“By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and… blah blah blah.”

— Someone went to a seminar on “how to set goals” but they fell asleep halfway through. They were awake for the part where your goal is supposed to indicate a fixed time limit, but they forgot about the actionable element, without which the date is nice sounding, but meaningless. The format should read, “By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and vulnerable by taking such and such and action.

I wonder how this all squares with subsidizing the rebuilding of New Orleans…

October 31, 2018 10:22 am

Today (10/31/18) in the WSJ there is a summary of how reinsurers are responding to emerging climate related risks. It reads to me to be simply cover to do a step increase in insurance rates, at least until one or two of the big insurers decide to grow their market shares. Itwould be interesting to hear Dr. Pielke’s take on the WSJ article.

Johann Wundersamer
October 31, 2018 5:54 pm

“Direct economic loss attributed to disasters in relation to global gross domestic product”

How to measure

in relation to global gross domestic product.

Ivan Kinsman
November 1, 2018 11:07 pm

How can people believe in this scientific tripe. A recent report on warming oceans is yet more evidence that the US sceptic community is living in its self-perpetuating denial bubble = la la land:

November 2, 2018 9:30 am

The time span of 27 years
shown on the charts is too short
to determine a long-term trend.

There must be data before 1990.

Why are they not on the charts ?

That makes me suspect data-mining.

Weather-related “losses”
are mainly physical assets,
such as real estate
and physical items inside
the homes and commercial buildings,
and some temporary (usually)
business disruption.

Trees and landscaping may be
destroyed too, but would they be counted,
since they are not insured?

I see no logical reason to compare
the weather-related damage to assets,
with the annual production
of goods and services (GDP).

What we really want to know
is the weather-related damage
to physical assets,
as a percentage of
total physical assets,
for each year,
in each nation,
for at least 50 years.

I doubt if such data exist.

That doesn’t mean weak
data should be used instead —
there are questions in economics,
just like in climate science,
where the correct answer is
“we don’t know”.

It is not useful, and may be misleading,
to compare physical assets (i.e.; wealth),
with GDP.

The value of all physical assets
is a huge number compared with GDP.

US private and commercial real estate,
for example, is valued at about $120 trillion !

And that’s not including the property
inside the structures, or business
interruption costs !

Most estimates of
weather-related losses
must be very rough too,
certainly biased by
insurance fraud.

Based on the two charts,
I suspect this is junk economics.

The author is trying to show a specific
pre-determined trend, using data mining,
and poor choices of chart data,
most likely converting random weather events
into a “scientific trend” that the author believes in,
with no logical explanation why pre-1990s data
are being ignored.

I believe I am qualified
to state my doubts !

I’ve written an economics newsletter,
for paid subscribers, since 1977,
and have a Finance MBA from
the Stern School of Business,
at New York University.

My economics blog, since 2008:

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