January 8, 2020 / 10:03 AM / a month ago

Environmental conditions more conducive to Australia bushfires - Munich Re

* Australia bushfire season to peak in January and February

* Globally, natural catastrophe losses in 2019 were average

* Japan suffers big losses for 2nd consecutive year

* Signs that climate change is impacting scale of damage

MUNICH, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Environmental conditions have become more conducive to bushfires in Australia over the long term, a top insurer said on Wednesday.

The grim outlook by Munich Re, the German reinsurance company, comes in an annual report on natural catastrophes across the globe.

Australia has been reeling for weeks from deadly wildfires, affecting an area the size of South Korea.

The high point of Australia’s bushfire season is expected to peak in January and February, the German insurer said.

Munich Re said individual events could not be directly linked to climate change but recent studies showed “that in the long term the environmental conditions for bushfires have become more favourable – especially in the south and east of Australia.”

Losses from natural catastrophes last year totalled $150 billion worldwide, Munich Re said in its annual tally. That is down from last year but roughly in line with the long-term average.

Japan was hardest hit with two tropical cyclones - Hagibis and Faxai-, marking the second consecutive year of severe losses in the nation and accounting for $26 billion in damages. “Such a double hit - two years in a row with record losses - is seldom,” Ernst Rauch, chief climate and geoscientist at Munich Re, told Reuters.

Cyclones in 2019 were characterised by two phenomena that were likely a result of climate change, Rauch said. The storms came with extreme amounts of rainfall, and they were slower moving. ($1 = 0.8949 euros) (Reporting by Alexander Huebner; Writing by Tom Sims; Editing by Michelle Martin)

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