Calif., N.Y. & Wash. State to Make Climate Change Survey Mandatory

NU Online News Service, Feb. 2, 3:28 p.m. EST

Citing the need for regulators to understand how the risk of climate change can impact carriers, three states say they will require insurers to respond to the climate-risk survey adopted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners in 2009.

In a statement, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones says his office will join Washington state and New York in making survey responses mandatory.

The states will require all companies writing business in excess of $300 million in direct written premium to respond to the survey.

“The survey data will provide regulators with substantive information about the risks to insurers posed by climate change,” says Jones. “The survey will also explore the actions insurers are taking in response to their understanding of climate change risks.”

Robert H. Easton, executive deputy superintendent for insurance, New York State Department of Financial Services, adds, “The essence of insurance is the analysis of risk. We are asking insurers to share their views of the risk of climate change so that we can be sure that the industry and regulators are appropriately prepared.”

The statement notes that in 2011, unusual storm events saw close to 2,000 tornadoes. The spring-storm season alone cost $21.2 billion in insured losses, making it the fourth-costliest insured event in U.S.history.

That same year, insurers paid out a record $9.1 billion in claims inU.S.crop damage, and that number could go higher after the effects of other weather events are factored in.

“We’re seeing the same severe climate trends of recent years continue into 2012,” says Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “Our job as regulators is to confirm that companies are adequately addressing the impact of climate change on their risk profiles and ensure that the public has access to insurance to cover these severe weather events. The data from this survey will give us a real time benchmark for how insurers are preparing for the impacts of climate change.”

The action by three states runs contrary to a 2010 NAIC vote, which determined that insurer responses would be voluntary and confidential. However, after that vote some regulators maintained they would still proceed with a mandatory survey, with the results made public, as the NAIC originally voted to endorse in 2009.

Andrew Logan, insurance program director at Ceres, an investor group that has been active in pushing for stronger climate disclosure by the industry, says, “Climate change will have major implications for the insurance industry, yet few insurance companies are identifying their potential exposure and strategies for dealing with it.”

Members of the industry are not necessarily thrilled with the idea of filling out what they feel is another data call.

“We do not feel there is any great value that can be derived from this kind of a survey,” says Ellen Melchionni, president of the New York Insurance Association. “The topic of climate risk and global warming is not very clear cut and we don’t think it lends itself to meaningful quantification or qualification.”

She says that adding to the regulatory burden does not enhance the state’s efforts to bring in new business. She adds that she believes this information is already addressed by the state’s venture into enterprise risk management and that this topic is already covered by the rating services.

For his part, Robert P. Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute says in one report that this an issue insurers continually address and that it is the nature of their business to address risk from climate conditions.

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