Few insurers planning for climate change (Reuters)

By Ben Berkowitz

NEW YORK, Sept 1 (Reuters) – Only one in eight insurers has a formal policy in place to manage climate risk, despite rising evidence that environmental changes are exacerbating insurers’ disaster losses, according to a coalition of public interest groups.

The coalition, Ceres, looked at 88 filings from six states by insurance companies, using a form developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Ceres said it was the first-ever effort to quantify how U.S. insurers manage climate risk in their day-to-day operations.

Despite the broad lack of a formal policy, Ceres said insurers generally acknowledge the problem of climate change and the effect it can have on their business.

“Even those insurers with no formal climate policy, no climate risk management structure and a stated belief that the company is not vulnerable to the effects of climate change still name perils that may be affected by climate change 20 percent of the time,” Ceres said in its report.

Of the 11 companies with formal climate policies, two — Prudential Financial (PRU.N) and Genworth Financial (GNW.N) — are life insurers. The rest are mostly multi-line insurers or reinsurers. Among them are ACE Ltd (ACE.N), AIG’s (AIG.N) Chartis unit.

(For an Insider interview with the author of the Ceres report, click here: link.reuters.com/myk53s)

The Ceres report comes as insurers start paying claims for last week’s Hurricane Irene, which broke flood records across the U.S. Northeast, and as they look to the Atlantic for the approach of what may become Hurricane Katia.

Because of the potential for hurricanes to cause sudden and huge losses in the United States, Ceres said the insurance industry is especially focused on how climate change will affect hurricane exposure, potentially at the expense of studying the impact on other common perils.

Some insurance companies have taken a public stand on climate issues, particularly home and auto insurer Allstate (ALL.N), which has warned that recent severe weather is part of a permanent change in the environment, and German reinsurance heavyweight Munich Re (MUVGn.DE).

Ceres recommended that all states make the National Association of Insurance Commissioners disclosure form mandatory and public, and that they adopt the model of California insurance regulators, who put together detailed guidelines on how to fill out the form.

Ceres describes itself is a national coalition of investors, environmental organizations and public interest groups. (Reporting by Ben Berkowitz; editing by John Wallace)