The Heat Is Online

Swiss Re Warns of Climate Catastrophe

Insurer warns of global warming catastrophe
Reuters News Service, March 4, 2004

GENEVA - The world's second-largest reinsurer Swiss Re warns that the costs of global warming threaten to spiral out of control, forcing the human race into a catastrophe of its own making.

In a report revealing how climate change is rising on the corporate agenda, Swiss Re said the economic costs of global warming threatened to double to $150 billion (81 billion pounds) a year in 10 years, hitting insurers with $30-40 billion in claims, or the equivalent of one World Trade Centre attack annually.

"There is a danger that human intervention will accelerate and intensify natural climate changes to such a point that it will become impossible to adapt our socio-economic systems in time," Swiss Re said in the report.

"The human race can lead itself into this climatic catastrophe - or it can avert it."

The report comes as a growing number of policy experts warn that the environment is emerging as the security threat of the 21st century, eclipsing terrorism.

Scientists expect global warming to trigger increasingly frequent and violent storms, heat waves, flooding, tornadoes, and cyclones while other areas slip into cold or drought.

"Sea levels will continue to rise, glaciers retreat and snow cover decline," the insurer wrote.

EXPONENTIAL RISE

Losses to insurers from environmental events have risen exponentially over the past 30 years, and are expected to rise even more rapidly still, said Swiss Re climate expert Pamela Heck.

"Scientists tell us that certain extreme events are going to increase in intensity and frequency in the future," Heck told Reuters by telephone. "Climate change is very much in the mind of the insurance industry."

Over the past century, the average global temperature has increased by 0.6 degrees Centigrade, the largest rise for the northern hemisphere in the past 1,000 years, Swiss Re said.

In the short- and medium-term, simply knowing that the planet is warming will allow society to adapt, for example, through infrastructure to cope with more-frequent floods or by instructing farmers to use drought-resistent cereals.

In other cases, governments need to restrict risk-taking, such as approving housing developments in low-lying areas, and improve catastrophe management capabilities.

In the long term, Swiss Re said, greenhouse gases widely thought to trigger global warming will need to be reduced, the use of fossil fuels cut and new energy technologies developed.

"The role of the insurance industry is through establishing risk adequate tariffs and to give the risk taker the opportunity to implement appropriate measures to reduce the chance of possible losses," Heck said.