Extreme weather is driving up uninsured losses and insurers must use investments to fund global warming resilience, says study
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
The ability of the global insurance industry to manage society’s risks is being threatened by climate change, according to a new report.
The report finds that more frequent extreme weather events are driving up uninsured losses and making some assets uninsurable.
The analysis, by a coalition of the world’s biggest insurers, concluded that the “protection gap” – the difference between the costs of natural disasters and the amount insured – has quadrupled to $100bn (£79bn) a year since the 1980s.
Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, warns in the new report that: “Over time, the adverse effects of climate change could threaten economic resilience and financial stability [and] insurers are currently at the forefront.”
The ClimateWise coalition of 29 insurers, including Allianz, Aon, Aviva, Lloyd’s, Prudential, Swiss Re and Zurich, conclude that the industry must use more of its $30tn of investments to help fund increased resilience of society to floods, storms and heatwaves.
The Bank of England warned in 2015 that insurance companies could suffer a “huge hit” if their investments in fossil fuel companies were rendered worthless by action on climate change and some insurers have already shed investments in coal.
The ClimateWise report, published on Wednesday [December 7 2016], also says the industry must also use its risk management expertise to convince policymakers in both the public and private sector of the urgent need for climate action.
The industry’s traditional response to rising insurance risks – raising premiums or withdrawing cover – would not help deal with the rising risks of global warming, it said.
“The insurance industry’s role as society’s risk manager is under threat,” said Maurice Tulloch, chairman of global general insurance at Aviva and chair of ClimateWise. “Our sector will struggle to reduce this protection gap if our response is limited to avoiding, rather than managing, society’s exposure to climate risk.”
The report said that, since the 1950s, the frequency of weather-related catastrophes has increased sixfold. As climate-related risks occur more often and more predictably, previously insurable assets are becoming uninsurable, or those already underinsured are further compromised, it said.
The economic impact of these natural catastrophes is growing quickly, according to Swiss Re, with total losses increasing fivefold since the 1980s to about $170bn today. This increase is partly due to an increase in extreme weather but also due to an increase in assets as cities and towns have grown, especially in vulnerable locations such as on coasts.
“Insurance provides a very important role in providing support for people in their time of need,” said John Scott, chief risk officer at the Zurich Insurance Group and chair of ClimateWise’s “Investing for Resilience” programme. “Finding viable ways to help society adapt and become more resilient to the inevitable changes related to ongoing climate change is vital. It is very clear that as carbon dioxide concentrations increase, we should expect to see more patterns of severe weather disruption.
“We understand climate change as underwriters, because we are trying to manage the physical consequences of the severe weather we get from climate change, so we can be a really important industry in terms of informing policy makers, either in the public or private sectors, about the pace at which we should make the change from a high-carbon to low-carbon economy.”
Other actions insurance companies can take are to work with their customers to make them more resilient to extreme weather and encourage the development of insurance markets in poorer nations that are growing rapidly, the report said.
Carney, who has warned repeatedly of the serious risks posed by climate change, said: “Insurers, including those who are members of ClimateWise, have unique risk-management expertise to help address the protection gap among those who are most exposed to climate risk.”