By Alex Whiting
ROME, Aug 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The annual cost of damage caused by hurricanes in the United States may rise eight times by the end of the century, as the number and intensity of the storms increase on a warmer planet, researchers said on Tuesday.
Globally, tropical cyclones account for more than 50 percent of economic losses caused by weather. Their impact is projected to increase "substantially" as the number of people affected grows, incomes rise and storms worsen, the researchers said.
In the United States, the increase in the cost of hurricanes may even outpace economic growth if climate change is not curbed, the Germany-based Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) said in a paper.
"The losses of hurricanes will rise more strongly than GDP (gross domestic product) will rise - that's basically what we found," Tobias Geiger, lead researcher at PIK, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
Financial losses per storm could triple as a percentage of U.S. GDP by 2100 if climate change continued at its current pace, the study said.
For example, if a hurricane cost the equivalent of 1 percent of GDP today, the cost could rise to 3 percent of GDP in 2100.
"Our expectations are that as people get richer globally they might get less vulnerable ... the question is, will that continue for ever?" Geiger said.
Countries may reach a stage where they cannot do any more to protect themselves from the impacts of hurricanes, at which point their losses may overtake their development, he added.
The scientists worked with models that linked information on wind speed, affected populations and per capita GDP.
Fellow researcher Anders Levermann said "the hope in economic growth as an answer to climate change is ill-founded".
While adapting to the unavoidable impacts of global warming is important, efforts to reduce emissions of climate-changing gases are vital to prevent or reduce consequences that can still be headed off, Levermann added.
In December, almost 200 nations agreed a radical shift away from fossil fuels with a goal of limiting a rise in average global temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times while "pursuing efforts" for 1.5C. But many climate scientists say those targets are likely to be breached in the coming decades.
In the United States, hurricanes have caused an estimated $400 billion in losses between 1980 and 2014, PIK researchers said.
The worst storms to hit the country in recent years were Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Katrina was the costliest disaster of its kind in U.S. history. It killed more than 1,800 people, and most damage estimates put the economic impact at well over $100 billion.
Sandy, which killed 121 people, cost New York state and New Jersey at least $70 billion.
(Reporting by Alex Whiting, editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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