FINANCIAL losses from events related to weather in Australia have risen four-fold over the past 30 years and are likely to increase as climate change intensifies already volatile weather patterns, according to the reinsurance company Munich Re.
''Due to [Australia's] already high natural climate volatility and extremes - droughts, heatwaves, floods - only small changes in climate may result in high losses,'' said Professor Peter Hoppe, the head of Geo Risks Research centre at Munich Re.
During 1980-2011, there were 820 "loss events" from weather, claiming 1100 lives and costing $US20 billion in insured losses, Munich Re said, citing 2011 dollar values.
The increase in damage related to weather was on par with Asia and behind only North America, where they had risen five-fold to account for half the $1 trillion in worldwide weather catastrophes between 1980 and 2011, the company said.
Professor Hoppe said the threat from climate change for Australia was linked to rising sea surface temperatures.
Warmer seas increase the risk of intense rainfall and floods, and could lead to more intense tropical cyclones, he said.
Munich Re's assessment is based on a database of 30,000 weather-related events that have caused losses. Reinsurers, including Munich Re, use such information to determine the price of insurance policies they sell to insurers.
Insurers such as Insurance Australia Group say there has not been an increase in Australia's international risk rating despite the string of natural disasters in recent years.
''Whilst we have unfortunately been extremely susceptible to weather events of the past three to four years, that's not necessarily a prediction of what will happen in the future,'' said the chief executive officer for IAG's Direct Insurance division, Andy Cornish.
''It's not really changed materially.''
IAG, Suncorp and other insurers said Australian insurance premiums were likely to rise, but it was due to local issues.
The Insurance Council of Australia has been pressing for more action to improve national building and land use codes.
They say there has been a failure to invest in levees and other works that help limit damage during natural disasters.
According to budget papers, the federal government will spend $98.6 million in the four years between 2009-10 and 2012-13 on ''mitigation and resilience'' measures.
The spending on recovery and reconstruction in any one of those years dwarfed the mitigation spending. The tallies were $402 million, $997 million, $479 million and $1.1 billion.
''Mitigation initiatives represent only 3 per cent of what the government spends on post-disaster recovery and reconstruction,'' Mr Cornish said.
''We're not doing enough to protect property and lives.''
A spokesman for the attorney-general's office said mitigation priorities mostly concerned state and territory governments.
Professor Hoppe said governments should communicate about risks but it should be up to individuals to insure against losses due to storms and floods.
The head of public policy and corporate affairs at Suncorp, Chris Newlan, said the company had not yet factored in extra premiums for a warming planet.
He said there were bouts of bad weather every decade, but ''it's fair to say the severity is increasing''.