Posts

Insuring the Vulnerable in a Warming World

Devastation on the Caribbean island of Dominica after Hurricane Maria, November 19, 2017 (Photo by Tanya Holden/DFID) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Devastation on the Caribbean island of Dominica after Hurricane Maria, November 19, 2017 (Photo by Tanya Holden/DFID) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

BONN, Germany, December 4, 2017 (Maximpact.com  News) – The German government has just contributed €110 million (US$125 million) to bring affordable insurance against climate and other natural disasters to 400 million vulnerable people around the world by 2020.

The contribution from German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, BMZ, made in November follows a £30 million (US$39 million) commitment from the Government of the United Kingdom in July.

These contributions are earmarked for the InsuResilience Global Partnership for Climate and Disaster Risk Finance and Insurance Solutions, headquartered in Bonn.

Between 1980 and 2015, more than 60 percent of the people who lost their lives as a result of climate-related extreme weather events had an income of less than US$3 a day, according to the reinsurance company Munich Re in a 2016 statement.

The effects of extreme weather events force some 26 million people into poverty every year, according to a World Bank study published this year entitled “Unbreakable: Building the Resilience of the Poor in the Face of Natural Disasters.”

Although absolute economic losses are much higher in high-income countries, they only account for 0.2 percent of GDP, as compared to five percent in low income countries.

To close this protection gap, the G7 countries: Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Canada, the UK and the United States, launched the InsuResilience initiative for climate risk insurance at their summit in Elmau, Germany in June 2015.

The initiative aims to offer insurance against climate risks to an additional 400 million poor and vulnerable people in developing countries by 2020.

At the start of the initiative, only around 100 million poor and vulnerable people in Africa, Asia and Latin America were insured against climate-related risks.

At the climate negotiations in Paris in 2015 (COP21), the G7 partners made a commitment to provide US$420 million in funding for InsuResilience as a first step.

One year later, at COP22 in Marrakesh, two new partners joined the initiative: the European Union and the Netherlands. Together, the InsuResilience partners confirmed their commitment and increased their financial contributions for InsuResilience to US$550 million.

More progress on insuring the world’s most vulnerable people was made this year. The Insuring Resilient and Sustainable Cities Summit held on May 5 in Bonn was convened by the UN Environment Principles for Sustainable Insurance (PSI) Initiative and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.

Gino Van Begin, ICLEI’s Secretary General, said, “Cities are on the front line of sustainable development challenges such as climate change and natural disasters. That’s why cities are working more and more with the insurance industry to better manage risk.”

The PSI, the largest collaborative initiative between the United Nations and the insurance industry, and ICLEI, the global network of more than 1,500 cities, towns and regions, joined forces in December 2016 to create the largest collaboration between the insurance industry and cities for resilience.

The Summit was sponsored by Munich Re, a founding PSI signatory, and supported by other PSI signatories such as Allianz and Risk Management Solutions, as well as by city mayors and officials from ICLEI’s global network – from Iloilo in the Philippines and Honiara in the Solomon Islands, to Copenhagen, Denmark and Oslo, Morway.

Dr. Michael Menhart, head of Economics, Sustainability and Public Affairs at Munich Re, and a PSI Board member, said, “We are committed to implementing the UN Principles for Sustainable Insurance in our core business activities. By supporting the push for more resilient and sustainable cities, we can help turn the PSI into practice and make a contribution through our risk and resilience expertise. This is a great example of how the insurance industry can promote economic, social and environmental sustainability.”

Resilience is not only about climate. The main outcome of the PSI-ICLEI Summit was the “Bonn Ambition”, which aims to achieve three goals by June 2018, when ICLEI hosts its World Congress in Montréal, Canada.

The Bonn Ambition is strategically linked to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Bonn Ambition seeks to create “Insurance Development Goals for Cities,” which would harness the insurance industry’s triple role as risk managers, risk carriers and investors in the context of the SDGs, focusing on SDG 11 – “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

The idea is for the PSI and ICLEI to convert SDG 11’s stated targets into Insurance Development Goals that would set the long-term global agenda for the insurance industry and cities.

Participants plan to organize the first-ever roundtable of insurance industry CEOs and city mayors at the 2018 ICLEI World Congress to accelerate global and local action. The Congress is held every three years and assembles hundreds of local governments and key stakeholders to set the course for globalizing urban sustainability.

Butch Bacani, who leads the PSI at UN Environment, and who conceptualized and chaired the PSI-ICLEI Summit, said, “The Bonn Ambition clearly supports the PSI’s vision of a risk-aware world, where the insurance industry is trusted and plays its full role in enabling a healthy, safe, resilient and sustainable society. We need ambitious and decisive action now – not in 2020 or 2030 – to make the transformation to resilient and sustainable cities a reality. Time is non-renewable.”

The PSI-ICLEI Summit showed how the insurance industry could support cities as risk managers, risk carriers and investors. It explored various ways to close three key gaps in cities:

  • Closing the disaster risk reduction gap – through catastrophe risk modelling, ecosystem-based adaptation, insurance loss data sharing, land-use planning, loss prevention, and disaster preparedness
  • Closing the insurance protection gap – through insurance solutions for low-income people, SMEs, local governments and green technologies, including index-based insurance and usage-based insurance
  • Closing the financing gap – through investments in sustainable infrastructure, energy, buildings and transportation, and instruments such as green bonds and catastrophe and resilience bonds

Jed Patrick Mabilog, mayor of Iloilo City in the Philippines, said, “To survive and thrive, we need a whole-of-society approach to climate change adaptation and mitigation and disaster risk reduction. I fully support the Bonn Ambition and look forward to its implementation.”

Andrew Leonard Mua, mayor of Honiara City in the Solomon Islands, one of the most climate and disaster-vulnerable countries, said, “No man is an island. Honiara needs to work with other cities and key stakeholders such as the insurance industry in shaping a resilient and sustainable urban future. We need to act urgently—the future is happening now.”


Featured image: Strong winds brought by Typhoon Haima toppled electric poles, damaged homes and flooded fields in the Isabela and Cagayan provinces of the Philippines, October 20, 2016 (Photo by International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Is Climate Change to Blame?

Houston, Texas resident up to his knees in floodwaters dumped by Hurricane Harvey, August 28, 2017 (Photo by Jill Carlson) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Houston, Texas resident up to his knees in floodwaters dumped by Hurricane Harvey, August 28, 2017 (Photo by Jill Carlson) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

MIAMI, Florida, September 20, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – Contemplating the destruction and suffering that four ferocious hurricanes have brought to the Caribbean over the past three weeks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres blames it on climate change.

This year’s hurricane season “fits a pattern,” he said at a high-level event at the UN to secure help for Hurricane Irma survivors. “Changes to our climate are making extreme weather events more severe and frequent, pushing communities into a vicious cycle of shock and recovery.”

“Extreme weather linked to climate change has an impact all over the world, including floods in southern Asia and landslides and droughts in Africa,” said Guterres. He also noted the impact of rising ocean surface temperature on weather patterns.

In the past month alone, four major hurricanes have ripped through the islands in the western Atlantic Ocean the Caribbean and lands lining the Gulf of Mexico. First Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, Texas; then hurricanes Irma and Jose tore through, and now Hurricane Maria blasted in with Category 5 winds on Wednesday.

AT little less intense as a Category 4 hurricane, Maria made landfall as dawn broke in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico on September 20 with maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (250 km/h).

“Maria is an extremely dangerous category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, and it should maintain this intensity until landfall,” said forecasters at the National Hurricane Center. The last category 4 storm to hit Puerto Rico was in 1932.

Maria is following a similar track as Hurricane Irma blew down in the first two weeks of September, again striking small island developing states that were already reeling from Irma.

It is exceptionally rare to have two category 5 hurricanes in such a short space of time and on a similar track.

On September 18, Maria intensified rapidly from a category 1 to a category 5 hurricane. It hit the island of Dominica with maximum winds of 159 mph (257 km/h), the first Category 5 hurricane ever to hit the island. The entire island was under the influence of peak eyewall surface winds and it took more than 150 mm of rainfall.

Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico with 155 mph winds, the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall on the island since 1932. Now all of Puerto Rico is without electricity.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center is warning of a life-threatening storm surge for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin islands.

Puerto Rico could get an additional 12 to 18 inches (300 to 460 mms) of rainfall, with 25 inches (640 mm) in some locations.

Earlier today, Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, asked President Donald Trump to declare the region a disaster zone. The White House gave the territory an emergency declaration, one designation below “disaster.”

And there’s more…

Dominca, a small mountainous island with about 70,000 residents, lost all communications during the storm.

As Hurricane Maria struck, Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit posted a message on Facebook, saying, “Initial reports are of widespread devastation. So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains.”

“So far,” wrote Skerrit, “the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with. The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn away roofs in the city and the countryside.

“Come tomorrow morning,” he wrote, “we will hit the road, as soon as the all clear is given, in search of the injured and those trapped in the rubble. I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating…indeed, mind-boggling,”

“My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured. We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds. It is too early to speak of the condition of the air and seaports, but I suspect both will be inoperable for a few days,” wrote Skerrit.

Skerrit is seeking help from friendly nations and organizations with helicopter services, because he is “eager to get up and get around the country to see and determine what’s needed.”

What many people believe is needed is a concerted decision to limit the greenhouse gas emissions they fear are driving climate change and causing these hurricanes to become even more devastating.

Most scientists say that changes in Earth’s atmosphere did not cause Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose or Maria to form.

But most agree that the effects of climate change, such as warmer oceans and rising sea levels, made these storms more destructive than they would have been in earlier decades.

“The short version is, climate change makes these very bad storms worse,” said Sean Sublette, a meteorologist with Climate Central, a nonprofit organization of scientists who conduct scientific research on climate change and journalists who inform the public of key findings.

“It’s not the proximate cause of the storm, but it makes these bad storms worse,” said Sublette. “And in the case of a really bad storm, climate change can make it totally disastrous or catastrophic.”

The question of how climate and extreme weather interact will be central to the upcoming Science Summit, organized by the World Meteorological Organization’s <public.wmo.int> Commission for Atmospheric Sciences in Bali, Indonesia from October 20 to 22.

The Summit is an opportunity to shape the WMO’s research agenda, building toward a closer collaboration between weather, climate, water and environment research.

Scientists have been hard at work analyzing the relationship between climate change and extreme storms for years.

Back in May 2016, Australian scientists published a study in the journal “Geophysical Research Letters” showing that cities face harsher, more concentrated rainfall as climate change intensifies storms and draws them into narrower bands of more intense downpours.

Engineers at the University of New South Wales found that this has major implications for existing stormwater infrastructure, particularly in large cities, which face high risks of flash flooding.

“As warming proceeds, storms are shrinking in space and in time,” said doctoral student Conrad Wasko, lead author of the paper. “They are becoming more concentrated over a smaller area, and the rainfall is coming down more plentifully and with more intensity over a shorter period of time. When the storm shrinks to that extent, you have a huge amount of rain coming down over a smaller area.”

That analysis will sound familiar to the residents of Houston, Texas who were flooded with record-breaking amounts of rainfall – at least 30 inches (76 cm) of rain, with a maximum of 51.88 inches – in late August.

Hurricane Harvey brought record multi-day rainfall to the Houston area, after it stalled in the region following landfall.  Harvey had intensified before landfall after travelling over unusually warm waters (~2°C) in the western Gulf of Mexico.

“There is no clear evidence that climate change is making the occurrence of slowly moving land-falling hurricanes in the Houston region, such as Hurricane Harvey, more or less likely. However, some aspects or “ingredients” of the Harvey event may have linkages to climate change,” said the WMO’s Expert Team on Climate Impacts on Tropical Cyclones, led by Tom Knutson of NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

Because the tropical atmosphere now holds about seven percent more water vapor than it used to due to climate warming, Knutson and the Expert Team say the rainfall rates associated with Harvey “were likely made more intense by anthropogenic climate change.”


Maximpact+WASTE