Bengü Bellek

Managing Attorney

21.03.2023

The Impact Of Climate Change On The Insurance Industry

Climate change, that started as a scientific theory and became the the subject of environmental policy and international negotiation[1] refers to the long-term changes in the Earth's climate. Climate change poses some major economic risks due to changing weather patterns, extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in addition to mitigation efforts, taking steps to adapt to the effects of climate change is also necessary and can greatly reduce negative impacts.[2] 

 

Transferring risk to the global reinsurance and capital markets might be one of the solutions.[3] There is a question of who will bear the costs of the damage caused by extreme weather conditions, which is a concern for both companies and governments of developed and developing countries. One important question that arises when considering this challenging situation is how to reduce the risk of experiencing these losses.[4] The insurance industry is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change because natural disasters can lead to large losses and claims. Insurance premiums are based on the insurer's predicted costs for covering a risk, and this function of insurance promotes the reduction of losses by private individuals.[5]

 

As natural disasters become more frequent and more costly, insurance companies are facing big challenges. It is anticipated that climate change will have a significant impact on the financial services industry, including insurance, but it is currently unclear what the specific effects will be and how prepared the industry is to respond to them. But it is sure that in order to alleviate the harm, insurers need to make some changes. It is challenging to fully understand the extent and seriousness of the problem, partly due to the lack of sufficient data on the extent to which insurance companies are exposed to risks related to climate change.[6]

 

Climate change causes unpredictable changes in the frequency, intensity, extent, and duration of extreme weather events, which affects the probability distributions used by the reinsurance industry.[7] According to the IPCC, human activities are believed to have an impact on weather extremes, including greenhouse gas levels. It is challenging to establish a connection between human activities and changes in tropical cyclones because records are unreliable, there is a high degree of variability, and scientists do not have a complete understanding of the effects of climate change on tropical cyclones. Some extreme weather events are caused by natural variability, while others are caused by a combination of natural events that are not related to human activities.[8]

 

The insurance industry is accustomed to dealing with uncertainty by incorporating risk assessments into premiums. Climate change adds to this complexity and creates additional challenges, but also presents potential new opportunities for (re)insurers and governments.[9] Insurance companies typically take on significant risks, but they usually manage them through diversification in their underwriting and investments, as well as through reinsurance. This is a form of insurance for insurance companies and it helps to prevent any one company from taking on too much risk that could compromise its financial stability.[10]

 

The effects of climate change, such as more severe hurricanes and more frequent wildfires following droughts, may affect the legal framework.[11] Climate change may significantly increase the exposure of the insurance industry, which will need to develop new policies accordingly. A major challenge is to prevent insurers from assuming new risks by using premiums from new policies to offset old risks.[12]

 

Risk assessment and risk management are essential components of effective adaptation, which involves both preventing and transferring risks.[13] As they help identify and evaluate potential risks and hazards that may be caused or exacerbated by climate change. This information can then be used to develop strategies for preventing or reducing those risks, and for transferring or mitigating the potential impacts of those risks if they do occur.

 

Risk assessment is the process of identifying and evaluating potential risks and hazards, and determining the likelihood of their occurrence.[14] This information can be used to prioritize the most significant risks and to develop strategies for addressing them. Risk management, on the other hand, is the process of implementing strategies to prevent or reduce risks, and to transfer or mitigate the potential impacts of those risks if they do occur. This can include strategies such as building sea walls to protect against coastal flooding, or developing early warning systems to alert communities to potential hazards.

 

This forms the foundation of a functioning insurance industry. Despite this, there are still many questions about how the insurance industry can provide risk management options in the face of increased risk and uncertainty, particularly in developing countries. It is clear, however, that an integrated approach is needed to ensure that risk assessment is financed and that risk prevention, reduction, and transfer solutions are implemented to assist those who are most vulnerable to climate change.[15] According to a recent study conducted y Deloitte showed that the insurance industry is not prepared.[16]

 

Reinsurance companies, which provide insurance for insurance companies, are likely to be affected by climate change as well. As natural disasters become more frequent and severe, reinsurers may have to pay out more claims, which could lead to higher premiums for insurers. These are similar industries that operate using similar mechanisms such as underwriting, investment, claims, expense management, and reinsurance which affect each other and their respective policyholders. Government regulation at all levels encompasses the right to establish, types of risks, consumer protection, and specific contracts including reinsurance. Therefore, it makes sense to have a unified regulatory system for both types of insurance within a jurisdiction, although some differences may exist due to the fact that direct insurers are more heavily regulated than reinsurers. This is mainly because the reinsurance industry is considered to be more specialized and does not involve direct interaction with consumers.[17]

 

The insurance industry can also play a role in mitigating the effects of climate change. It is one of the world's major institutional investors and climate change will influence its investment decisions, such as investing in reducing carbon emissions or in alternative energy sources.[18]

 

According to some economists, it is often more economical to avoid damage from natural disasters rather than relying on insurance to cover losses after they occur. They say that insurance may not be the most appropriate solution for all situations related to climate change, such as gradual changes like sea level rise, and it typically only covers extreme events.[19]

 

It is no doubt that climate change poses significant challenges to society, and it is crucial to find ways to mitigate these challenges. While much attention has been given to laws and regulations to address climate change, insurance can also play a key role by providing clear financial incentives and certainty. Although private insurers are capable of handling much of the risk, relying solely on them is not ideal. Since large-scale risks associated with climate change often require public projects and government intervention to mitigate, it may be most effective for the government to take a leading role in providing climate change insurance as a way to address these risks.[20]

 

Effective policy change requires a combination of both market incentives and government regulations. Insurance programs that are well-designed can encourage actions that decrease the likelihood of climate-related disasters and should not be seen as a replacement for other methods of prevention and adaptation.[21]



[1] Joseph MacDougald; Peter Kochenburger, "Insurance and Climate Change," John Marshall Law Review 47, no. 2 (Winter 2013): 101-132, s. 101
[2] Sofya Matteotti; Olga Nartova, "Climate Change: Implications for the (Re)Insurance Industry," New Zealand Journal of Public and International Law 10, no. 1 (July 2012): 107-122, s. 108
[3] Matteotti, s. 108
[4] Peter Molk, "The Government's Role in Climate Change Insurance," Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 43, no. 2 (2016): 411-426, s. 412
[5] Molk, s. 412
[6] Alex Fredman, “Regulators Should Identify and Mitigate Climate Risks in the Insurance Industry”, (2022) , (https://www.americanprogress.org/article/regulators-should-identify-and-mitigate-climate-risks-in-the-insurance-industry/)
[7] Matteotti, s. 110
[8] Christopher B Field and others (eds), “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation: Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change”, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2012): 1-19
[9] Matteotti, s. 111
[10] Fredman, (https://www.americanprogress.org/article/regulators-should-identify-and-mitigate-climate-risks-in-the-insurance-industry/)
[11] Isa Lang, “Wrestling with an elephant: A selected bibliography and resource guide on global climate change.” Law Libr. J., (2008), 100: 675.
[12] Matteotti, s. 112
[13] Matteotti, s. 112
[14] Adger, W. Neil, Iain Brown, and Swenja Surminski. "Advances in risk assessment for climate change  daptation policy." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 376.2121 (2018): 20180106. (https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsta.2018.0106#d1e266)
[15] Matteotti, s. 112
[16] Deloitte, “How insurance companies can prepare for risk from climate change”, (https://www2.deloitte.com/be/en/pages/financial-services/articles/insurance-companies-climate-change-risk.html)
[17] Matteotti, s. 114
[18] Virginia Haufler, "Insurance and reinsurance in a changing climate." Changing climates in North American politics: Institutions, policymaking, and multilevel governance (2009): 241, s. 254
[19] Matteotti, s. 115
[20] Molk, s. 426
[21] Haufler, s. 257