Entries tagged with “Environment”.


I.I.I. chief actuary Jim Lynch offers his perspective on how insurers are responding to climate change:

The insurance industry got a report card this week on a test I’m not sure they knew they were taking. And the grading curve was, in my opinion, harsh.

Ceres, a nonprofit group that promotes sustainable business practices, rated 330 insurers – life, health and property/casualty – on how well they are responding to climate change.

Before I wade further into the topic, it is important to acknowledge that insurance companies and their managers have a range of opinions on global warming that is as wide as the opinions of Americans overall on the topic. There is no insurance industry position, though there are individuals and companies with strong opinions – just as with all Americans.

On a four-point scale, nine companies got the highest mark (“leading”): Ace, Munich Re, Swiss Re, Allianz, Prudential, XL Group, The Hartford Financial Services Group, Sompo Japan and Zurich. Matthew Sturdevant of the Hartford Courant does a nice job rounding up how these firms earned their grade.

Ceres gave “minimal” or “beginning” rankings to 276 insurers, 84 percent on my calculator. The New York Times played up that aspect. But the analysis may be skewed because of the source of the rankings and how Ceres adapted that source.

Ceres took a National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) survey that six states require on climate change. The survey consists of eight yes-or-no questions, each of which follows up with why the insurer answered as it did. The follow-up questions are open-ended – companies can respond with as little or as much information as they like.

The questions help regulators when they assess a company’s enterprise risk management, specifically how hard a company looks for potential problems that might not hit them until years from now. Climate change certainly has that potential.

Ceres took those answers and graded them on its own criteria, resulting in six scores from 1 to 4, which it then re-summarized into a single grade.

Boiling a complex set of open-ended answers is tricky enough, but Ceres has, in my opinion, misused the NAIC survey, which is supposed to help regulators understand how well insurers are considering climate change in their risk management, not whether insurers are acting as stewards of the environment.

So it doesn’t seem like Ceres is giving a fair test. Insurers are answering questions on how climate change might affect their business then being rated on how their actions will reduce carbon emissions. It’s like being told to write an essay, then being graded on penmanship.

How could this skew results? Some insurers are minimally exposed to climate change, so it would not be prudent risk management for them to devote valuable resources to the issue. Medical malpractice writers are an obvious example. Climate change might be important to the world at large, but how relevant is it to the operation of a medical malpractice writer?

Property insurers are in a different boat, pardon the irresistible pun. Rising sea levels and growing weather extremes are important developments, and it would seem a prudent coastal writer would consider whether those trends will continue, abate or accelerate. A company that writes worldwide has still more to think about, as climate trends would affect other countries more than our own.

Seen that way, it makes perfect sense that some large, multinational insurers are concerned about climate change while small writers not exposed to property insurance are less so.

On the life/health side, there is a signal-to-noise problem. Climate change appears to have an impact on mortality, but it’s really small. A 2011 Brookings study suggested that climate change will increase U.S. age adjusted mortality rates by about 3 percent over the next 85 years or so. That rate has declined by 1 percent per year over the past 35 years. So the impact of climate change on mortality is likely to be overwhelmed by other forces at work.

That’s not to say that life expectancies outside the U.S. won’t be affected more. But a life insurer that only writes U.S. risks might not want to incorporate climate change-induced mortality changes from, say, Australia, into its business model.

Regardless, life insurers have a built-in mortality hedge in pairing annuity sales with life insurance. People who die sooner drive life insurance profits lower. But they push annuity profits higher, and vice versa. Combine that with the small impact of climate change on U.S. mortality and it makes perfect sense that a great many U.S. life insurers have decided that climate change doesn’t form a central part of their risk management strategy.

Health insurers are in a similar situation. Gradual changes in health have small effects on their business, and those changes can be easily adjusted to year by year. Pandemics are a bigger risk, so risk management efforts focus there.

That helps explain why health and life insurers didn’t score as high as property/casualty insurers. They have less at stake.

California’s insurance department doesn’t sound too concerned. Ceres relied on CA DOI information to compile its report, so there’s a good chance the Ceres researchers saw a 2013 press release that said this:

The results of this year’s survey are a positive sign for the insurance industry and the environment,” said Commissioner Jones. “It is encouraging to see that insurers are aware of the risks that a changing climate brings, and moreover they are taking steps to ensure their responses to these risks are sufficient to protect their business.”

More than 1,000 companies [Duplicates and multi-company insurance groups account for the difference between Ceres’ total and California’s.] were required to respond to the survey. The survey revealed that roughly 75 percent of insurers have a plan for identifying climate change-related risks that could affect their business, and are taking actions to mitigate these risks. Responses to the eight survey questions reveal that nearly every insurer is aware of the risks posed by a changing climate, and an overwhelming majority of insurers have incorporated mitigating practices into their business model.”

That sounds like an industry that is handling the issue prudently, even if it is not the way an environmental group would prefer.

Climate change is among the five most likely and most potentially impactful global risks, according to the just-released World Economic Forum (WEF) 2014 Global Risks Report.

The report assesses 31 risks that are global in nature and have the potential to cause significant negative impact across entire countries and industries if they take place.

An analysis of the five risks considered most likely and most impactful since 2007 shows that environmental risks, such as climate change, extreme weather events and water scarcity, have become more prominent since 2011 (see chart above).

This suggests a pressing need for better public information about the potential consequences of environmental threats, the WEF says.

Concern about socio-economic risks such as income disparity, unemployment and fiscal crises has become more prominent over the years.

The report reveals that fiscal crises and structural unemployment and underemployment are among the most impactful risks while the latter also feature among those most likely to occur. This has knock-on effects on income disparities, which is regarded as the overall most likely risk, the WEF notes.

Cyber attacks and the breakdown of critical information infrastructure also feature among the most prominent risks in this year’s report.

The WEF notes:

This arguably reflects the increasing digitization of economies and societies, where rising dependence on information and data, as well as the systems to analyze and use them, has made attacks more likely and their effects more impactful.”

WEF note: Global risks may not be strictly comparable across years, as definitions and the set of global risks have been revised with new issues having emerged on the 10-year horizon. For example, cyber attacks, income disparity and unemployment entered the set of global risks in 2012. Some global risks were reclassified: water supply crises and income disparity were reclassified as environmental and societal risks, respectively, in 2014.

The report is published in collaboration with Marsh & McLennan Companies, Swiss Re, Zurich Insurance Group, National University of Singapore, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, University of Pennsylvania.

Oh deer, it’s that time of year again. State Farm has just released its annual report on U.S. deer-vehicle collisions.

State Farm’s findings show that for the third consecutive year, the number of deer-vehicle collisions has dropped, and the downturn is accelerating.

Using its claims data, State Farm estimates that 1.09 million collisions between deer and vehicles occurred in the U.S. between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011. That’s 9 percent less than three years ago and 7 percent fewer than a year ago.

However, the average property damage cost of these incidents was $3,171, up 2.2 percent from the year before.

For the fifth year in a row, West Virginia tops the list of states where an individual driver is most likely to run into a deer. State Farm calculates the chances of a West Virginia motorist striking a deer over the next 12 months at 1 in 53, an improvement over last year’s odds of 1 in 42.

Iowa remains second on the list (1 in 77), followed by South Dakota (1 in 81) which moves up one place to third, Pennsylvania (1 in 86) which jumps two places to fourth, Michigan (1 in 90) which drops from third to fifth.

November, the heart of deer migration and mating season, is the month during which deer-vehicle encounters are most likely, with more than 18 percent of such mishaps occurring in this month.

So why are deer-vehicle collisions declining?

In a press release, State Farm notes:

While we can’t put our finger directly on what’s causing a decline in deer-vehicle collisions, we’d like to think media attention to our annual report on this subject has had at least a little bit to do with it.”

What do you think?

Check out I.I.I. tips on how to avoid deer/car collisions.

Check out State Farm’s map to see if you live in a high risk state:

 

The news wires are buzzing with reaction to a landmark environmental case in which an Ecuador court ordered U.S. oil giant Chevron Corp. to pay $8.6 billion to clean up oil pollution in Ecuador’s rain forest.

The award is believed to be the largest ever imposed for environmental contamination and could double if Chevron does not publicly apologize for the oil pollution within the next 15 days, as ordered by the judge.

Today an article in the New York Times follows up with the news that representatives for Ecuadorean villagers say they plan to pursue Chevron in more than a dozen countries where it operates in a bid to force the company to pay.

The case has been the subject of proceedings in courts in Ecuador and the U.S. for nearly 20 years.

Residents of Ecuador’s Amazon forest, who are plaintiffs in the case, are attempting to hold Chevron liable for environmental damage they claim resulted from the operations of Texaco Inc. in the region from 1965 to 1992. Chevron inherited the suit when it acquired Texaco in 2001.

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal observes:

The Ecuador suit is a form of global forum shopping, with U.S. trial lawyers and NGOs trying to hold American companies hostage in the world’s least accountable and transparent legal systems. If the plaintiffs prevail, the result could be a global free-for-all against U.S. multinationals in foreign jurisdictions.”

The LA Times quotes John van Schaik, oil analyst at Medley Global Advisors in New York, saying:

The appeals could go on for many years. But the fact that the Lago Agrio court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs sends a signal to oil companies that, more than ever, they need to be good corporate citizens.”

Meanwhile, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the ruling against Chevron “runs contrary to the fundamental rule of law.”

The case is being watched closely by other multinational corporations.

Check out the Huffington Post for more on this story.

You may have seen the video footage of the wave of toxic red sludge that flooded out of a failed reservoir at an alumina refining plant in Hungary on Monday, inundating villages and leaving at least four dead and 120 injured.

Today NPR reports that the sludge has reached the Danube River – Europe’s second longest river – though Hungarian officials are quoted as saying no immediate damage is evident.

The European Union earlier had warned that the spill could pose a serious environmental problem for 12 countries if it contaminates the Danube.

The flood, estimated at 700,000 cubic meters, or 185 million gallons, swept cars off roads, damaged bridges and houses and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents, according to the New York Times. People who came into contact with the substance were burned through their clothes.

Authorities have ordered a criminal inquiry into the accident. It is still not known why part of the reservoir wall collapsed. The Ajkai Timfoldgyar plant is owned by Hungarian aluminum production and trade company MAL Rt.

The disaster underscores the point recently made by I.I.I. president Dr. Robert Hartwig that large-scale industrial accidents are not as rare as you might think and can result in losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Earlier this year, a power plant in Middletown, Connecticut exploded leaving five dead and 27 injured.

Insurers play a key role in insuring these facilities.

Man-made global disasters triggered insured losses of about $4 billion in 2009, according to Swiss Re. Some 155 man-made disasters occurred in 2009, including major industrial fires and explosions; aviation, maritime and rail disasters; mining accidents; building/bridge collapses; and losses related to terrorism and social unrest.

The April 2010 explosion at the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico will add to the insured loss tally from man-made disasters this year.

As for environmental liability arising from the disaster in Hungary, Europe’s Environmental Liability Directive (ELD), in effect since April 30, 2007, is based on the “polluter pays” principle.

A bulletin released by Aon and reported at Insurance Journal, warns companies with industrial operations in Europe that the ELD leaves no place to hide:

Under the ELD, all companies have a liability and many, because of the nature of their operations, do not even have to be at fault if the environment is damaged due to the actions of a company.”

Aon goes on to warn that events such as this could ultimately lead to the total collapse of a company at fault if they do not have suitable insurance coverage in place.

Comprehensive environmental insurance programs can be put in place and the market can provide coverage for up to €150 million ($210 million) for an individual risk, Aon adds.

Speculation is mounting that the growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico following the explosion, fire and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the coast of Louisiana may prompt the declaration of a federal disaster. The Jackson Clarion Ledger reports that just as Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour submits a disaster declaration request to President Obama for last Saturday’s deadly tornado, another major disaster looms for Mississippi.

Latest reports suggest oil is leaking at the rate of 5,000 barrels a day from the damaged rig, not 1,000 as had been initially estimated and officials believe the spill could reach the coast of southeastern Louisiana as soon as Friday night. The Clarion Ledger reports:

The impact of the spill is a direct threat to the state’s shrimp and oyster fishermen and to some of the state’s most pristine and important wetlands. Those areas have only recently begun to recover from 2005′s Hurricane Katrina.”

Meanwhile, a post at the Mississippi Press blog cites experts saying that although federal disaster declarations usually follow hurricanes and other natural catastrophes, the manmade oil spill in the Gulf could conceivably qualify as well. It quotes a spokesman for Gov. Barbour saying that while officials are still focused on keeping the oil spill offshore, a disaster declaration “would be one of the options open to us.”

According to FEMA data, there have been 35 major disaster declarations in 2010 so far – all of which were for various weather-related events. A major disaster declaration must be requested in writing to the President by the governor of a particular state. In this request the Governor certifies that the combined local, county and state resources are insufficient and that the situation is beyond their recovery capabilities.

The Mississippi Press blog notes that in 2001 then-President George W. Bush issued major disaster declarations for Virginia and New York following the September 11 terrorist attack. Two years later, he also issued a less-weighty emergency declaration for Texas and Louisiana following the loss of the space shuttle. Check out I.I.I. information on offshore energy facilities and insurance considerations.

Concerns are rising about the potential environmental impact after the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven workers are feared dead and 17 others were injured following an explosion and fire that ripped through the rig late Tuesday. The rig, which is owned by offshore drilling contractor Transocean Ltd, was under contract to oil giant BP, according to media reports. Check out a Guy Carpenter risk report for more on this story. An article in the New York Times notes that the potential for environmental disaster from the spill would be greatest if the oil were to reach the Louisiana coast. BP was reported to be dispatching a flotilla of more than 30 vessels capable of skimming more than 170,000 barrels of oil a day to protect sea lanes and wildlife in the area of the sunken platform. A Reuters report focuses on the financial impact of the loss of the rig for Transocean Ltd, noting analysts’ comments that the cost of the rig will be largely covered by insurance. The comments underscore the point that insurance provides support to many different industries, including energy. Check out a recent presentation by I.I.I. president Dr. Robert Hartwig for information on the impact of the global financial crisis on the energy sector and trends and challenges in energy markets.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday said it has determined that a public health emergency exists at the Libby asbestos site in northwest Montana. This is the first time the EPA has made a public health emergency declaration under the Superfund law (CERCLA). “This determination recognizes the serious impact to the public health from the contamination at Libby and underscores the need for further action and health care for area residents who have been or may be exposed to asbestos,” said the EPA in a press release. It noted that investigations performed by the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry have found the incidence of occurrence of asbestosis in the Libby area staggeringly higher than the national average for the period from 1979-1998. In 1963, W.R. Grace, a construction materials and chemicals company bought Zonolite, a Libby, MT company that mined vermiculite, a mineral contaminated with asbestos. Last month a Montana federal jury acquitted W.R. Grace and three former executives of criminal charges related to the contamination. The Libby asbestos site has been on the EPA’s Superfund national priorities list since 2002, and cleanup has taken place since 2000. The mine closed in 1990. Check out I.I.I. information on asbestos liability.