Everybody Talks About Extreme Weather, But Nobody Does Anything About It

Had Mark Twain attended “Adaptation, Insurance, Transit: Responding to Challenges from Extreme Weather & Climate Change” on February 27, he would have understood that we no longer have the luxury of only talking about the weather. 

We are in a position to make choices about how we respond to climate change and doing nothing is a choice, and a very expensive choice, for future generations, as Rachel Cleetus, Senior Climate Economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, reminded the audience.  In the US we focus on emergency responses to extreme weather events, instead of preparing in advance for predictable effects of climate change, such as flooding of major metropolitan areas.  UCS makes the science around climate change understandable, through webinars and other outreach to the public, to help governments and individuals prepare for the catastrophic consequences of exceeding the global warming target of 2 degrees Celsius in our or our children’s lifetime.

Insurance risk management and risk transfer are crucial to US climate resiliency and the insurance sector and policymakers must recognize that the insurance industry needs to be part of the solution, advised Cynthia McHale, Director of the Insurance Program at Ceres, Inc.  Although there are some leaders among insurance companies, many US insurers have a long way to go in acknowledging and responding to the clear correlation between greenhouse gas concentrations and extreme weather events in the US.  Ceres’ 2012 report, “Stormy Future for US Property/Casualty Insurers: The Growing Costs and Risks of Extreme Weather Events,” discusses the challenges for insurers in pricing, underwriting and incentivizing behavior to mitigate and adapt to climate change.  Insurers could play a major role in curbing the effects of climate change by developing innovative insurance products, promoting loss prevention and adaptation and investing strategically to decrease carbon emissions and Ceres is working with the industry and policymakers on those issues. Immediate action is needed: global reinsurer Munich Re’s recent study concluded that the increase in extreme weather events is making North America a risky place to insure.

A new coalition of 30 groups is dedicated to decreasing greenhouse gases from transportation in Massachusetts, said Kristina Egan, Director of Transportation for Massachusetts.  The transportation system in Massachusetts is broken and that vulnerability compounds the effects of climate events.  The mass transit system, which is to be used for evacuation, is a greater concern than the road system.  First we need inter-agency and intra-agency coordination and mapping of infrastructure vulnerabilities.  Once we have strengthened what we have now, we need to adapt the transportation system for climate change.  Other cities in the US and elsewhere are far ahead of Boston in planning for climate change.  Fixing and adapting our transportation system, which is the largest source of greenhouse gases in Massachusetts, is critical.  The key thing to change is vehicle miles traveled.  Ms. Egan urged the audience to lobby their state legislators to increase funding for public transportation.

Julie Taylor (who opened the program with the Mark Twain quote) and Elisabeth DeLisle, Co-Chairs of the Environmental Law Section Public Policy Committee, which sponsored the program, will consider how the BBA could create opportunities to not just talk about, but actually do something to address climate change and extreme weather events.

By: Nancy D. Israel , Law Office of Nancy D. Israel, who will be joining Ceres in the Insurance Program in the near future.

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