Panelists on stage at Climate Week NYC 2011

Climate Week NYC 2011: Rethinking resiliency – Innovative solutions for climate adaptation

Strengthening community resilience to climate change will require new approaches and solutions. “Rethinking Resiliency,” a high-level panel sponsored by Swiss Re during Climate Week, highlighted how the public and private sectors can work together to make it happen.

A more climate-resilient society benefits all. But where and how can business and government work together to adapt to climate change?

Business, government and non-profit sector leaders explored these and other questions at the Swiss Re-sponsored panel “Rethinking Resiliency” during Climate Week NYC 2011, held at the New York Institute of Science and attended by over 200 people.  

They shared a view that the global debate must focus on both mitigating climate change and adapting to its unavoidable consequences. Insurance can play a major role in mobilizing the financing needed to turn ideas into action. It’s cheaper to invest in adaptation now than to deal with the cost of doing nothing tomorrow.

Rebecca Grynspan, Associate Administrator at the United Nations Development Programme said adapting to climate change is  a must, pointing out that the world already experiences about 500 weather-related disasters a year compared to about 100 per year in 1980. Developing countries suffer the most because they’re the most vulnerable.  But there are encouraging signs that some of the poorest communities are taking matters into their own hands.

Bouncing back after disaster: Success stories

Anne Hastings, CEO of Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest microfinance institute serving over 50,000 underprivileged women, related how her organisation joined forces with Swiss Re and Mercy Corp to create MiCRO.  It’s an insurance facility, reinsured by Swiss Re, that guarantees compensation to small business owners for insured losses after a hurricane. “We developed a catastrophic insurance product and 56,000 of my clients are buying cat insurance. We recently received a $1 million payout from Swiss Re to 4,000 policyholders; my clients would never have been able to link up with a reinsurer where it not for this program.”

Swiss Re’s Chairman of Global Partnerships Michel Liès used Haiti as an example of a country with low insurance penetration, which probably needs insurance more than most. “We can’t be satisfied with low insurance penetration,” Liès said. “We need to get people to accept insurance as something that’s available and very much a part of their lives. We can help to get them into the middle class.”

Investment makes it happen

Several panelists said it would take a change in approach to foster greater investment in climate adaptation. The Global Adaptation Institute’s Juan Jose Daboub noted, for example, that the key actors – private business, governments, NGOs – will be hamstrung in their efforts unless broad policy and regulation is instituted that facilitates and encourages cooperation and investment.

Andrew Steer of The World Bank gave a nod to the effectiveness of insurance. “Ninety countries came to us and ask for help with adaptation,” he said. “Insurance has emerged as a social protection program. It’s dollars that can be turned on at any time when needed – not only to help people recover and rebuild but to help them become more resilient.”

Michel Liès agreed that stakeholders can get good return on investment from pre-disaster projects such as adaptation (eg building to more stringent codes), but “insurance intervenes when we can’t build to withstand the 1-in-1,000 year event.”

In closing, an audience member asked if there were any upcoming events where people could get involved and help. To which Liès replied, “The most influential events are those which cannot be scheduled, and those are catastrophes.”

Published 19 November 2011

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