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12/19/2012 06:39 pm ET

Cost Of Natural Disasters, Man-Made Catastrophes In 2012 Down From Last Year, Report Finds

Despite the substantial financial losses associated with Hurricane Sandy, the cost of global natural and man-made disasters in 2012 is actually significantly lower than last year's total. According to a report released Wednesday by reinsurer Swiss Re, total economic losses from disasters -- naturally occurring or otherwise -- is estimated to be at least $140 billion.

The report follows in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which battered the East Coast of the United States in late October and is estimated to have inflicted between $30 billion and $50 billion worth of damage.

Even with the costs of the Sandy, the second-most expensive storm in U.S. history after Hurricane Katrina, the total financial loss from disasters this year did not near 2011's total of $380 billion -- the highest in history -- or 2010's $218 billion.

The cost of disasters in 2011 may have been bolstered by the substantial losses associated with the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. This year, the top five most expensive disasters all occurred in the U.S.

While the number of catastrophes may vary from year to year, environmental conditions suggest that we may be in for more natural disasters in the years ahead.

Global carbon dioxide hit a record high in 2011, according to the World Meteorological Organization, which said greenhouse gases have increased by 2 ppm, on average, over the past 10 years. A November United Nations report found that greenhouse-gas emissions have already surpassed the point at which the worst effects of climate change could be prevented.

Another record was broken in the Arctic this year when satellite observations showed that the amount of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean is lower than it has been since scientists began using satellite imagery. The Arctic ice melt, which is rapidly driving the area into an extremely volatile state, may pose an imminent threat to island nations.

With a dramatic uptick in extreme weather and natural disasters, which many attribute to climate change, the U.N. warned earlier this year that policymakers must plan for disasters in the future to limit economic losses and save lives.

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