Hurricane Damage and Global Warming

How Bad Could It Get and What Can We Do About It Today?

Full study available in pdf

Climate experts and policy makers have debated the existence of a potential link between global warming and increased hurricane activity since the record-setting 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. While claims that hurricanes are already stronger due to climate change are highly controversial, research demonstrates that increases in societal vulnerability to hurricanes—the number of persons and amount of property in coastal areas—goes a long way toward explaining the increases in hurricane losses over time.

This paper focuses on hurricane damage projections, reviews them in detail, and critiques the projections. It details how existing public policies have helped increase hurricane losses. In its final section, the paper recommends specific policies to reduce populations’ vulnerability to hurricanes.

Existing public policies—including insurance regulation, government-subsidized flood insurance, improper mitigation, and faulty building code enforcement—contribute to unnecessarily risky and inefficient development along coastal areas by shifting the cost of hurricane damage ultimately onto third parties—mainly taxpayers. Poor policies lead to excessive vulnerability to hurricanes and would exacerbate the cost of any increase in storm activity, whether due to climate change or any other factor. Insurance subsidies and mitigation may not be normally considered part of the climate change debate, but within that debate reform of these policies now will constitute a “no regrets” strategy. In other words, reforms will yield benefits in all circumstances—especially if adverse climate change does occur.