Insurance and Climate Change column

Washington Commissioner’s Climate Summit Highlighted Area, Global Vulnerabilities

By | October 8, 2020

“The insurance buying public wants to know that insurance is going to be available and affordable to them when they need it.”

That was the take-home message from Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who hosted a half-day virtual summit on climate change on Wednesday.

The Climate Summit 2020 featured a host of experts talking about climate change, its impact on the Pacific Northwest, and the globe, as well as steps being taken to mitigate the impacts of a warming world.

Kreidler has in the past pushed the insurance industry to do more to address climate change, including calling for greater insurer disclosure on climate risk. He founded the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Climate Risk and Resilience Working Group in 2007 and has been the chair since its inception.

He said he worries about insurance consumers, and that as large wildfires continue to become the norm, and flooding becomes more frequent, the insurance industry may look at withdrawing from risker areas.

“At that point, you become very vulnerable,” Kreidler said.

Other presenters at the conference included Kara Hurst, head of worldwide sustainability for Amazon.

Hurst discussed the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative, which is intended to accelerate sustainability research in partnership with organizations like NOAA, NASA and the U.K. Met Office.

She said Amazon’s goal is to reach zero carbon emissions in the next few years. As part of that goal, the company has launched 90 solar and wind projects globally, and is on a path to do more each year.

“We’re going to reach 100% renewable by 2025,” Hurst said.

Michelle Lancaster, director of sustainability for Microsoft Corp., said the software giant is working on addressing four areas: carbon, water, waste and the ecosystem.

The company plans to operate “carbon negative” by 2030.

“That’s a big target,” she said. “Somewhere on the order of 16 million metric tons of carbon that we have to reduce or replace by 2030.”

Another Microsoft goal is to be “water positive,” replenishing more water than used, by 2030, and be zero waste by 2030, she added.

She also talked about the company’s “planetary computer,” also being called AI for Earth, to help the world become more sustainable.

“We think that’s really the tip of the spear of what Microsoft can do in this marketplace,” Lancaster said.

Dr. Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group and Northwest Climate Adaption Science Center at the University of Washington, said temperatures in the Northwest have been increasing since 1800s, the snowpack is declining, glaciers are shrinking, the timing of stream flow is changing in rivers, sea level rise is affecting Washington’s coast, and coastal waters are warming and acidifying.

“We’re also seeing a large number of fires and area burned has increased in the Northwest in the last couple of years,” she said, noting that dryer fuel is leading to worse wildfires because of human-caused warming. “We expect to see the area burned by wildfires in Washington quadruple by the 2040s.”

What’s worse, she added, is “we’re headed for significant change.”

She also said models suggest increased flooding should be expected inland.

Projections show that the river flows in Puget Sound’s 12 largest rivers are expected to rise between 18% to 55% by the 2080s.

Other summit speakers included Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation and the National Congress of American Indians, Francis Bouchard, Group Head of Public Affairs and Sustainability for Zurich Insurance, Sherri Goodman, with the Polar Institute and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.

Past columns:

Topics Wildfire Washington Climate Change

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