Insurers Are Addressing Climate Risks

By Richard Creedon

The insurance industry is uniquely positioned to provide leadership in the public policy dialogue over climate risks. Our contribution to this conversation is crucial because insurers recognize the growing intensity of threats to the properties insurers financially protect. 

In 2020, the U.S. witnessed a record hurricane season with 30 named storms; 12 of them made landfall. We also observed the worst wildfire season on record with more than 10 million acres burned—roughly the size of Maryland.

The U.S.’s auto, home, and business insurers cumulatively saw their catastrophe-caused insured loss payouts more than double to $47.1 billion for the first nine-months of 2020 from $21.5 billion in the same nine-month period a year earlier, Verisk and the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA) found.

The federal government quantified this trend, too. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there were 22 weather and climate disasters in the U.S. in 2020. Damages from these disasters exceeded $1 billion each and totaled approximately $95 billion for all 22 events when including both insured and uninsured losses, NOAA estimated.

The demand for insurance industry involvement in addressing climate risks is urgent. With a new administration and Congressional majority, climate is a priority issue in Washington, D.C. Industry leaders would be wise to explore pro-actively climate risk solutions for business and society—and not wait for elected officials to prescribe a response.

I believe climate risk is a challenge that should be integrated into each insurer’s Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) framework. That means examining climate risk impacts on insurer investments, underwriting and operational priorities—and then managing all dimensions of those findings.

The Own Risk and Solvency Assessment (ORSA) framework is already in place. Adding additional resources to this process will provide further intelligence for how insurers ought to operate as we move forward. For example, at my company, we decided rather than wait for regulators to try to limit fossil fuel investments, we created a green energy portfolio. The idea was to create a position in non-carbon energy production—and be opportunistic as the economy transitions toward non-carbon alternatives.

We believe this transition can be done responsibly while still managing the primary mandate of securing financial strength for policyholders.

One of the biggest challenges we will likely face is rising consumer expectations. We also must remember the political arena often animates public expectations. As an industry, we have at times struggled to produce innovative products and services.

Whether its personal or commercial insurance, our consumers want offerings that are relevant for their individual needs, which today includes being more resilient to climate risk. Everyone in the financial sector faces these challenges but I am confident insurers have the insights and expertise to deliver the innovation required in our changing world.

Richard Creedon, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the member companies of the Utica National Insurance Group is also Chairman of the Insurance Information Institute’s Executive Leadership Committee

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