A September research report by Ceres, a Boston, Mass.-based business sustainability advocacy organization, was eerily prescient.
Ceres published the white paper titled, “Stormy Future for U.S. Property/Casualty Insurers: The Growing Costs and Risks of Extreme Weather Events.”
The Ceres report examined how extreme weather trends may be a harbinger of significant challenges ahead for a sector in which many companies are already confronting profitability and growth challenges. The analysis was based on a review of U.S. property and casualty insurance industry financial results as reported by A. M. Best Company in early 2012.
“Extreme weather is hitting the United States with a vengeance and it poses a growing threat to the insurance industry and vast segments of society that rely on insurance for peace of mind and financial security. This summer’s devastating drought and record-high temperatures are only the latest reminders of the far-reaching impacts that climate change and extreme weather events pose to U.S. property and casualty insurers still reeling from last year’s $32 billion of insured losses from such events,” Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler wrote in the first sentence of the foreword of the report.
A month later, Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast, causing an estimated $50 billion in economic damages, including about $10 billion to $20 billion of insured losses, according to Eqecat Inc., a provider of catastrophic risk models for the insurance industry.
Sandy’s fury and other rising incidents of horrific weather-related carnage should be of concern to all businesses because of the implications on the affordability and practicality of property and casualty insurance.
In other words, we’re all going to absorb those losses, even if we here in Wisconsin were not directly in Sandy’s path.
“As the Washington Insurance Commissioner, I am concerned because increasing weather-related losses pose threats to the industry’s financial stability, which could ultimately lead to a crisis of affordability and availability of essential insurance for consumers and businesses, as well as solvency problems for insurers themselves. Potentially larger extreme weather losses in the future, driven by climate change, make these scenarios especially worrisome,” Kreidler wrote in September, not knowing at the time that Sandy was right around the corner.
According to the report, more than 25,000 new record high temperatures were set in 2012 alone in the United States. The report stated that 2011 was “the deadliest thunderstorm and tornado season in more than 50 years,” resulting in almost 550 fatalities across the country.
“Property insurance affordability and availability is already coming under increasing pressure due to increasing extreme weather losses,” the Ceres report stated.
When the Great Recession hit in 2008, public discourse about “global warming” and became almost quaint, as people were more focused on keeping their jobs or keeping their businesses open as the economy cratered. It seemed to many that only tree-hugging, Al Gore-loving hippies were concerned about “climate change.”
The warmest climatological year on record and recent catastrophic events such as Hurricane Sandy changed that. According to a new poll by The Associated Press-Gfk, 80 percent of Americans now believe global warming will be a big problem for the nation if it does not take action to reduce it.
Corporate members of Ceres include giant corporations such as Bank of America Corp., Best Buy Inc., Citi, The Coca-Cola Company, Dell Inc., Ebay Inc., Ford Motor Co., General Mills Inc., General Motors Co., Nike Inc., Prudential Financial Inc., Time Warner Inc. and Walt Disney Co.
The causes of climate change can be disputed, but its very existence is now beyond debate. So, let’s focus on how we are going to deal with it.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.