Forbes: Climate Change Creates Risks — and Opportunities — for Florida Business
The insurance/climate change nexus is the focus of a reception Ceres is hosting tonight in Miami at the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference. This post, done with Energi CEO Brian McCarthy, explores Florida’s unique vulnerability to climate change and the key role insurers and others businesses have in tackling this challenge.
What a year for cruel weather. Devastating tornadoes, heat waves, wildfires, and record-breaking floods have forced millions of Americans to experience the kind of weather-related upheavals that hurricane-hardened Floridians have long been used to.
Severe weather has already caused $55 billion in economic losses in the U.S. in 2011 — and we still have a couple months to go.
Our organizations — an insurance provider and a nonprofit group that works with leading U.S. investors — are getting an earful from business owners hit by this severe weather. It is hiking costs and hitting consumers right in the wallet — the latest evidence in Florida, a 6.2 percent jump in homeowner insurance premiums statewide. And business leaders are worried, because scientists are telling us that as the climate continues to change, more extreme weather will become the new normal.
South Florida businesses are on the front lines, vulnerable to sea level rise and stronger storms. The Florida Climate Institute projects local sea level rise of 32 inches – nearly three feet – by 2100. That threatens property and infrastructure worth trillions of dollars. It also threatens drinking water supplies: salt water is already seeping into underground aquifers that supply Hallandale Beach, Lake Worth and other coastal communities.
Then there is the insurance issue, which will only get worse if scientists’ predictions of more severe hurricanes prove accurate. Property insurance rates have skyrocketed since Hurricane Andrew. Citizens Property Insurance, the state-run ‘insurer of last resort’, is now Florida’s biggest home insurer, and there are questions about how high rates will need to rise – even after last week’s rate hike approval – to reflect growing risks.
But while business is paying the price of increasing risks, it is also an essential part of the solution. America cannot curb climate change without the creativity, innovation, resources and drive the business community brings to the table.
Florida is fortunate because its innovative businesses are already working to make a difference. Solar and other renewable technologies are moving in. Just last month, National Solar Power announced plans for 400-megawatt, $1.5 billion solar farm that will create hundreds of jobs.
Energy efficiency holds promise, too. That’s why Energi, a Massachusetts-based insurance underwriter, has joined a new consortium to help South Florida commercial building owners boost efficiency. The partnership, which includes Barclays Bank, Lockheed Martin and reinsurance giant Hannover Re, will unleash $550 million of low-interest financing to catalyze efficiency projects in six cities, including Miami. South Florida is the first U.S. market picked for the venture, which will start producing projects early next year.
The loans allow businesses to retrofit commercial buildings at no up-front cost, cutting energy use by about a third. Businesses pay back the loans via a multi-year surcharge on their tax bills. Energi, through Hannover Re, issues an insurance backstop on the energy savings guarantees made by contractors.
Energy upgrade bonds are bundled and sold to investors, just as bonds have long been sold to finance street and sewer upgrades. The investment pays for itself, so businesses save money, contractors make money and hundreds of millions of dollars flow into the local economy. Another benefit: thousands of new jobs, right here in South Florida.
In the immediate aftermath of a deadly storm or a devastating flood, we rightly focus on helping people get back on their feet. But in the lull between disasters, we can take common-sense steps to make future extreme weather events a little less severe and a little less frequent.
By bringing energy efficiency and clean energy solutions to the marketplace, businesses can make money, boost employment and cut down on our use of dirty old-fashioned sources of energy. And along the way, we can help put America on a better economic footing, by making sure our country gets its fair share of the growing global clean-energy sector.
Brian McCarthy is CEO of Energi, Inc., based in Peabody, Massachusetts. Mindy Lubber is president of Ceres, a leading coalition of investors and public interest groups working with businesses to address sustainability challenges such as climate change.