The financial sector has for long worried that a crisis could shape up from growing climate risks. And insurers are increasingly concerned that rising temperatures will lead to a slump in property values that could spark broader financial turmoil.
In a report published last week, ClimateWise, a group run out of the University of Cambridge including some of the world’s biggest insurers, said increasing catastrophes linked to climate change could triple losses on property investments over the next 30 years.
The warning adds to concerns raised by Munich Re last month, which said a string of floods, fires and violent storms had doubled the normal amount of insurable losses. Munich Re said global climate-related losses may have topped a record $140bn last year, adding investors should look again at whether they’ve properly accounted for rising damages from weather catastrophes.
The German insurer reported $160bn of losses from natural catastrophes last year, some $20bn above inflation-adjusted averages in the previous three decades.
Wildfires in California have just caused a corporate casualty of climate change with utility PG&E Corp collapsing due to liability from two years of fires.
When PG&E filed for Chapter 11 on January 29, it marked not just one of the largest utility bankruptcies in history; it’s also one of the first tied to climate change.
PG&E, owner of California’s largest electric utility, made the move after estimating that it faced a $30bn liability from wildfires whose intensity has been blamed by state officials on worsening droughts linked to global warming.
There are growing signs that global warming is causing noticeable dents in some of the world’s largest and most sophisticated economies.
A protracted drought in Germany that made crucial waterways impassable to ships shaved around 2 percentage points off growth in Europe’s largest economy in the fourth quarter of 2018.
The US Defence Department last month warned climate change could compromise US security, with rising seas increasing flood risk to military bases and drought-fuelled wildfires endangering those inland.
In December, the Bank of England said it would force banks to make better preparations for climate change after finding only a few had done so.
Make no mistake, the overheating planet is bad for the economy.
Rising temperatures could curtail the pace of US economic growth by as much as one-third by 2100, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond in mid-2018.
The climate impact could be disproportionately damaging to developing economies.
The world’s 100 poorest countries could be 5% worse off by the end of the century with climate change – wiping trillions of dollars from the global economy every year - according to research findings by the University of Sussex and La Sapienza economists in early 2018.
For sure, a collective global effort to enact stricter carbon emissions policies is a must to deal with global warming concerns. For the financial sector, not only should investors price in climate risks; but they need to incorporate scientists’ climate projections into their own catastrophe models.