GENEVA - The world's second-largest reinsurer, Swiss Re, warned on Wednesday that the costs of natural disasters, aggravated
by global warming, threatened to spiral out of control, forcing the human race into a catastrophe of its own making.
In a report revealing how climate change is rising on the corporate agenda, Swiss Re said the economic costs of such disasters threatened
to double to $150 billion (82 billion pounds) a year in 10 years, hitting insurers with $30-40 billion in claims, or the equivalent of one World
Trade Center attack annually.
The world's second-largest reinsurer Swiss Re warned on Wednesday that the economic costs of natural disasters, aggravated by global warming, are threatening to spiral out of control and could double to $150 billion (82 billion pounds) a year in 10 years. This file photo shows the world's highest ski slope, located in the Bolivian Andes, where scientists say the ice cap that attracts hundreds of tourists each year will disappear in less than five years, likely due to global warming. REUTERS/David Mercado
"There is a danger that human intervention will accelerate and intensify natural climate changes to such a point that it will become
impossible to adapt our socio-economic systems in time," Swiss Re said in the report.
"The human race can lead itself into this climatic catastrophe -- or it can avert it."
The report comes as a growing number of policy experts warn that the environment is emerging as the security threat of the 21st century,
Scientists expect global warming to trigger increasingly frequent and violent storms, heat waves, flooding, tornadoes, and cyclones while
other areas slip into cold or drought.
"Sea levels will continue to rise, glaciers retreat and snow cover decline," the insurer wrote.
EXPONENTIAL RISE Losses to insurers from environmental events have risen exponentially over the past 30 years, and are expected to
rise even more rapidly still, said Swiss Re climate expert Pamela Heck.
"Scientists tell us that certain extreme events are going to increase in intensity and frequency in the future," Heck told Reuters by telephone.
"Climate change is very much in the mind of the insurance industry."
Over the past century, the average global temperature has increased by 0.6 degrees Centigrade, the largest rise for the northern
hemisphere in the past 1,000 years, Swiss Re said.
In the short- and medium-term, simply knowing that the planet is warming will allow society to adapt, for example, through infrastructure to
cope with more-frequent floods or by instructing farmers to use drought-resistant cereals.
In other cases, governments need to restrict risk-taking, such as approving housing developments in low-lying areas, and improve
catastrophe management capabilities.
In the long term, Swiss Re said, greenhouse gases widely thought to trigger global warming will need to be reduced, the use of fossil fuels
cut and new energy technologies developed.
"The role of the insurance industry is through establishing risk adequate tariffs and to give the risk taker the opportunity to implement
appropriate measures to reduce the chance of possible losses," Heck said.
©2004 Reuters Ltd