“Losses to insurers from environmental events have risen exponentially over the past 30 years, and are expected to rise even more rapidly still.”
— Pamela Heck, Insurance Industry Expert
Pamela Köllner Heck is a senior scientific officer with the Federal Office of the Environment in Switzerland and an insurance industry expert with Swiss Re. She’s published many articles on topics including models for European windstorm losses, droughts and associated building damages, risk of reinsurance losses using climate model data, and the development of the Swiss Adaptation Strategy. Her research has provided valuable consultation for insurers and government agencies alike as Switzerland prepares for a future impacted by climate change.
In 2004, Reuters covered a report by Swiss Re that said economic costs of natural disasters aggravated by global warming will reach $150 billion a year in 10 years. Insurers are dealing with the impacts of weather extremes directly, totaling $30-40 billion in claims annually. Being on the front lines of damages, insurance companies turned to reinsurers and consultants to help mitigate risks, like Swiss Re. Pamela Heck added: “Scientists tell us that certain extreme events are going to increase in intensity and frequency in the future. Climate change is very much in the mind of the insurance industry.” Taking these precautions, as well as understanding science, pushing governments to restrict risk-taking, and adjusting their measures on insurance eligibility, the industry planned to set the standard for protecting society’s assets.
C-level executives for Swiss insurance agencies have since taken the reins in adapting their communities. Insurers are calling on their government to develop risk management and adaptation strategies and to transition to a low-carbon economy, like a 2018 study by The Geneva Association that helped to lay out a framework and recommendations to do so. It concluded that, while the insurance industry is neither the polluter, nor the climate policy setter, it plays a critical role as a risk manager, underwriter, and investor in enabling resilience, as should every member of society.