Climate change risk growing for insurers

Insurers are struggling to assess the risks from climate change, industry officials say, with the floods in Australia and Brazil highlighting the potential losses from greater extremes of weather.

Scientists say a warmer world will cause more intense drought, floods, cyclones as well as rising sea levels and the insurance industry says the number of weather-related disasters has already soared over the past several decades.

Adding to the risks is a growing human population, more people moving into cities, particularly in Asia, and more property in the path of increasingly volatile weather.

This makes it harder to tease out a direct climate change link in ever-rising losses, experts say. Lack of long-term weather data in some parts of the world is also clouding the picture.

Another problem is the narrow time horizon insurers typically focus on. Reinsurers, for instance, renew their contracts annually based on past losses, meaning they aren't so concerned about trends decades in the future.

"There is still a fair amount of uncertainly as to climate change and the attribution of climate change to natural events or man-made and therefore it has not translated yet into the pricing," Yves Guerard, secretary-general of the Ottawa-based International Actuarial Association, said.

Some insurers are seeing a climate change link and rising risks.

"Ignoring global warming will risk an increasing exposure and therefore insured losses will escalate," said Scott Ryrie, chief executive of Allianz SE Reinsurance Asia-Pacific in Singapore.