Insurance and Climate Change column

Brexit, Climate Change and Clean Air

By | June 30, 2016

What does the Brexit portend for all those collaborative efforts undertaken by the European Union to battle climate change?

It’s a question a number of people were pondering – in Europe and in the U.S. – after last week when U.K. voters decided they want out of the EU.

Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate chief, on Tuesday said that Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was not a vote against climate change.

However, Figueres said before the vote that a Brexit would force the 28-member bloc to revisit the plan they submitted in Paris.

Politico last week ran a list of “5 ways Brexit will transform energy and climate.” Reporter Sara Stefanini wrote: “Britain’s departure from the EU will force broad changes to the bloc’s energy and climate policies, and remove a crucial ally for Central Europeans — but it will also give London far more freedom to pursue nuclear projects.”

Among the list of five, her first point is that the U.K. has traditionally been a leader on climate policies, but the nation’s leadership if and when Prime Minister David Cameron steps down could change the U.K.’s approach to the climate agreement hammered out last year in Paris.

Even if the U.K. wants to continue pushing global climate change efforts, it will have a harder time doing so as a stand-alone country that only produces 2 percent of worldwide emissions, Barry Gardiner, the Labour Party’s shadow climate and energy minister, told Politico.

The website Climate Home also offered up a list, this one with questions following the Brexit vote.

  • What’s the short term climate outlook?
  • Will it hurt the Paris climate agreement?
  • Is EU climate ambition over for good?
  • Are climate skeptics coming back to power?
  • How will this affect UK energy security?
  • Could it impact climate finance flows?

Climate Change Forming Pools

It seems amid the fears of global warming that insurance pools are being seen as one possible way for the insurance community and governments to tackle the problems posed by climate change.

The Financial Times ran a story on how underinsured, high-risk countries are banding together to pool risk.

“The lack of insurance for emerging economies is becoming more of a problem as the costs of natural disasters increase,” the story states. “Exacerbating this risk are the effects of climate change.”

The article highlights the Insurance Development Forum — a collaboration of insurers, the World Bank and the United Nations — that is working to help emerging economies understand and assess the risks they face, while increasing their access to insurance.

“For years the insurance industry has been very poor at describing the value proposition of insurance,” Stephen Catlin, executive chairman of the IDF and deputy chairman at XL Catlin, told the Financial Times.

But now, he added, the UN and other agencies “are starting to understand what we can do for them.”

Insurance Journal earlier this month reported on another risk pooling effort called the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility, a financial response mechanism to price pandemic risk under development by the World Bank in cooperation with the World Health Organization, global reinsurance companies and catastrophe modelers.

Both ideas are attempts to help vulnerable nations. The IDF aims to help many of the V20, or vulnerable 20 countries, according to the Financial Times. The members of the group include countries that consider themselves among the most susceptible to the effects of climate change.

“Finance ministers of the V20 said in a recent statement that the group is aiming to expand access among its members to risk-pooling mechanisms, which allow groups to share the burden of catastrophic risks such as earthquakes and flooding,” the Financial Times story states.

COPD

Some people still don’t agree on what’s causing climate change, but I’m sure we can all agree that being able to breathe clean air is important.

That point was driven home for me last week by the death of my mother, Allene Jergler. At age 77 she lived a good life, but her last handful of years were marred by breathing complications due to smoking.

Yes, smoking and air pollution aren’t the same thing, but the point I’d like to drive home for readers is that we should consider the welfare of our lungs as a small part of this climate change conversation.

When people talk about the risk from smoking, I only hear worries about lung cancer. But chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, better known as COPD, tops my list.

My mother’s lung volume, as measured by her pulmonologist, was down to 30 percent. Add to that congestive heart failure – smoking is also believed to be related to heart failure – and surgery for cancer (nonsmoking related), and that made for a tough time for a tough Southern woman who acted and thought at least a dozen years younger than her age.

She worked as a secretary for a contractor up to her surgery in 2012 – among her duties she dealt with making sure the appropriate insurance policies were in place prior to the startup of a job, and she made friends with quite a few insurance professionals along the way.

She drove the daily grind up Southern California’s 605 Freeway to Interstate 60, about where the rim of the heavy layer of smog that blankets the San Gabriel Valley begins. It was roughly an hour each way in stop-and-go traffic to Walnut and back.

However, open chest surgery proved too much for her lungs and heart, and left her unable to return to a job she loved where close friends she knew since the 1960s still worked.

She had a few more decent years after the surgery, which I attribute in part to her quitting smoking the same year. But she was never the same. In her last few months she finally went on oxygen pretty much full time.

Healthy lungs are not just vital for life, but for living.

So our lungs and clean air must be a consideration whenever we talk about pollution. We can all agree on this? Yes?

According to the American Lung Association, air pollution triggers asthma episodes, it sends people to hospitals, and it shapes how kids’ lungs develop. And the National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neurosciences at Auckland University of Technology earlier this month listed air pollution as a major contributor to stroke.

If you are still unconvinced, then at least do this: find a friend or family member who likes to light up and encourage them to quit.

No Partisan Air

Speaking of air pollution, not too long ago I went to Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Insurance Studies to hear Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Hartwig speak.

Schwarzenegger talked a great deal about his time as California governor, and one thing that evidently stuck in his craw was the fighting between parties on topics like schools, infrastructure and air pollution.

The still-somewhat-brawny actor said those battles often made little sense to him, particularly the fighting to get measures passed to ensure Californian’s had cleaner air to breathe.

“There is no Democrat air or Republican air. The air is polluted,” Schwarzenegger said.

Schwarzenegger backed up his anti-pollution stance with the World Health Organization statistic that 7 million people per year in the U.S. die as a result of air pollution exposure.

A recent poll may make the former Governator happy.

A Fortune article on Tuesday states that “most voters, including about half of Republicans, believe the climate is changing and the federal government should step in to cut greenhouse gases.”

This goes against the thinking that climate change is primarily a cause of concern for Democrats.

The article cites a poll from Just Win Strategies and TargetPoint Consulting. The poll was commissioned by a group of right-leaning energy-focused organizations, according to the article.

The poll shows that 68 percent of respondents want federal government action to reduce emissions of gases that cause climate change. Fourty-eight percent of Republicans polled took that view compared with 46 percent who opposed it.

That’s not the first poll that indicates there’s a possibility that the two parties are beginning to see eye-to-eye – at least among voters, not necessarily politicians – on climate change.

A poll out in April from the Yale Program and Climate Change Communication shows that conservative Republicans have experienced the largest shift in climate change believership of any political group with an increase of 19 percentage points over the past two years.

Forty-seven percent of conservative Republicans think global warming is happening, up from 28 percent two years ago, the poll shows.

But don’t tell Donald Trump.

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