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Boosting Urban Resiliency to Climate Change

Posted by Cynthia McHale at May 13, 2013 11:45 AM |
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Hundreds of cities and insurers across North America were hit by extreme weather events last year, many of them made worse by climate change. Higher sea levels, elevated storm surges and record flood damages cost U.S. insurers tens of billions and taxpayers double or triple this.
by Cynthia McHale, Director, Insurance Program Ceres Posted on May 13, 2013

Hundreds of cities and insurers across North America were hit by extreme weather events last year, many of them made worse by climate change. Higher sea levels, elevated storm surges and record flood damages cost U.S. insurers tens of billions and taxpayers double or triple this. Urban exposure to climate change is something that can no longer be ignored.

“If risk reduction is not achieved, challenges around insurance will continue,” Swiss Re’s Mark Way told a workshop audience at the Ceres annual conference this month in San Francisco. “Uninsured losses will be, and have been, a significant drain on microeconomic growth with increased burden to taxpayers.” Way noted that only 37 percent of weather related losses were insured globally in the past 10 years.

Cities have a key role in taking preemptive steps that can reduce both insured and uninsured losses. First, they can attack the root of the problem by acting on carbon pollution, the primary driver of a warming world. Dozens of U.S. cities have set ambitious goals to reduce their carbon footprints.

Adele Simmons of Metropolis Strategies discussed the Chicago Climate Action Plan, a climate change mitigation strategy launched in 2008 with the goal of reducing Chicago’s greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

The plan focuses on energy efficient buildings, renewable energy sourcing, clean transportation and climate adaptation.

Last year Chicago-area companies like Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), and United Airlines joined a Green Ribbon Committee for businesses to implement a Sustainable Chicago roadmap by 2015. Hyatt has set a goal to reduce energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste by 25 percent and to reduce water use by 20 percent.

The city’s Climate Action Plan also includes resiliency measures to reduce exposure from climate physical impacts, such as more extreme heat waves that can trigger asthma outbreaks and more hospitalizations. Strategies include innovative cooling measures, protecting air quality, completing research on the urban heat island effect and engaging the public and businesses on how to take their own steps.

In Boston, similar activities are already underway. The Boston Green Ribbon Commission is working to build private sector support for efforts to adapt to climate change by coordinating with Mayor Thomas Menino’s Climate Action Plan. A main goal is to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Among the specific measures: new LEED-Certified police stations and libraries and reducing tailpipe emissions of 500 city school buses by 90 percent. The city is also instituting resiliency measures, such as restoring East Boston salt marshes for better flood control and requiring elevated buildings in new development projects, such as the city’s waterfront Innovation District.

Deeper engagement to bring governments, policymakers and businesses together on climate resiliency is another must. A good example is Ceres’ Climate Resilience Project, a series of workshops in San Diego, Toronto and Boston, that have brought together property owners, bankers, urban planners, and insurance companies (such as Swiss Re) to discuss climate trends, and how they can work to find solutions to increasing property damage and human impact. These workshops will assist insurers in considering how the industry’s risk assessment tools can be adapted to better incorporate risk factors like infrastructure vulnerability.

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Meet the Expert

Cynthia McHale

Cynthia McHale is the Director of Ceres Insurance Program. She brings over twenty years of sector expertise working with many of the leading North American and European insurers, re-insurers and industry brokers. In her current role, Cynthia is leading a campaign to promote the insurance industry’s understanding and leadership on climate risks and opportunities. As risk managers, risk carriers and major institutional investors, insurers have a vital interest, and play an important role in fostering society’s response to global warming. Stronger insurance industry leadership on climate change issues will strengthen and accelerate our nation’s transition to a clean energy future while helping to build a resilient and sustainable society.

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