On the road from Copenhagen to Cancun

Our head of Sustainability & Emerging Risk Management, David Bresch, explains how we came to be part of the Swiss delegation in Copenhagen and why the insurance industry is focusing on the issue of climate adaptation.

Are you comfortable with the deal made?

We have known for some time that the Copenhagen process would not leave us with a legally binding deal and that negotiations would more than likely flow over well into 2010. Still, the final deal was disappointing. However, it is easy to forget that this is the first time the global community, including 193 countries, have sat down and discussed a common solution to this challenge. The majority confirmed that the discussion is no longer about whether climate change is occurring and more about what can be done about. This gives me confidence we are on the right path. The question just remains how quickly we can travel along it.

Why did the Swiss government invite Swiss Re to be part of their delegation?

It was a combination of our deep experience in working with natural catastrophes and our particular focus on climate adaptation and the challenge of how societies can respond to climate change. Of course, the focus at Copenhagen has been on reducing global emissions, but increasingly there is also an awareness that societies must learn to respond over the coming decades to global warming and its effects on weather patterns. As a reinsurer, Swiss Re brings specific skills such as catastrophe risk modelling and experience of using holistic risk management in highly uncertain situations.

Why is Swiss Re focusing on climate adaptation?

This is where we can bring our modelling, risk pricing and structuring skills to best use. Our recent publication Shaping climate resilient development showed how an integrated risk management approach can support local decision makers in assessing the vulnerability of their societies to extreme weather events and to deciding what measures can prevent, reduce or transfer the risks faced. In the case of the most severe and less frequent events, it can make sense for a community to insure itself rather than invest heavily in infrastructure, such as a dam or sea wall. This is something we understand very well from our core business.

What have you personally taken from your time at Copenhagen?

The experience has been unique. It is easy to underestimate the level of passion and commitment that was on show everywhere in Copenhagen. So many people really want this deal to work. At the same time the scale and complexity of the negotiations makes the process very long and laborious and you start to long for the efficiency of a business meeting with a straightforward agenda and decision-making powers. On behalf of Swiss Re, I think it has been important to see how relevant our risk expertise is, emphasising that we will have a role to play in both tacking climate adaptation and shifting to a low carbon economy.

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