From the October 2011 issue of American Agent & Broker • Subscribe!

IQ: Report: Insurers Slow to Recognize Climate Change to Industry Solvency

Only 11 of 88 insurers surveyed have formal policies in place to deal with mounting risks due to climate change, according to a report from The National Assn. of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). NAIC surveyed 88 leading insurers about climate change in public filings with state insurance commissioners and the extent to which they’re factoring it into their business models. Disclosures were filed in six states: New York, New Jersey, California, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.

Larger organizations in the industry tend to invest in resources that could drive more climate-resilient underwriting practices. Smaller insurers—the ones that embody a large percentage of the industry—do little to protect themselves and are the most vulnerable.

Climate change also is altering the industry’s global business landscape and threatens to undercut the risk models on which it depends. Impact that could jeopardize the industry’s financial foundation include rising losses in the U.S. and internationally from a range of natural disasters including wildfires, floods, prolonged droughts and hurricanes.

Although most organizations are concerned with the coastal impacts of climate, 2011’s events have exhibited climate risks that extend inland. The National Weather Service reported that before a single hurricane made landfall this year in 2011, the U.S. already tied its record for billion-dollar disasters and the tab from floods, tornadoes and heat waves has eclipsed $35 billion.

Among the report’s findings:

  • There is broad consensus among insurers that climate change will have an effect on extreme weather events
  • Few insurers formulated a plan to manage the risks and opportunities associated with climate change
  • U.S. insurers’ perceptions about and responses to climate change vary significantly by segment and size, suggesting significant market dislocations
  • The industry is focusing most of its attention on a narrow set of risks, especially coastal impacts and hurricanes
  • While climate change poses significant financial risk, few insurers provided meaningful information on the potential financial impacts of more volatile weather losses.
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