September 16th, 2013

Global Warming: The Evolving Risk Landscape

Posted at 1:00 AM ET

Global warming is an established scientific fact, and one that cannot be explained by statistical “noise” or natural variability alone. The single greatest threat under global warming is that of sea-level rise, which is expected to increase coastal flood frequency and severity under tropical cyclone, extratropical cyclone and tsunami events. The growing urban footprint and population density in coastal areas amplifies the financial and societal implications of such events. Changing weather patterns will lead to increased risk under flood and drought, with implications for agricultural, wildfire and water resources management. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (and consolidated scientific literature), tropical cyclone frequency is likely to decrease worldwide although the intensity of tropical cyclones could well increase. Adaptation measures to offset the impacts of these changes include water conservation and flood control efforts, together with sustainable agriculture and land use planning. Codes and standards play an essential role in climate adaptation and are particularly important in coastal areas. Diligent adjustment and modification of codes and standards can offset vulnerability in both developed and developing countries worldwide to reduce both the financial and social risks of climate change.

Climate change, global warming and the resulting landscape shift for risk management has been a growing area of concern among governments, the general public, the private sector and of course the (re)insurance industry. The debate has been intensely polarized, very chaotic and intensely political, with numerous misrepresentations and misconceptions, resulting in a great deal of “noise” clouding the very real and emerging issues. To adapt to climate change and the changing landscape of atmospheric perils, it is essential to cut through the “noise” and focus on decisions made in full command of objective fact.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has origins with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The IPCC is a scientific body that reviews and assesses scientific evidence pertaining to the physics of climate change and technical and socioeconomic impacts. The IPCC reports integrate the work of thousands of scientists under a highly stringent review process from leaders in the field, with endorsements of governments on a worldwide basis. Objectivity, completeness and a policy-neutral approach are key criteria of all IPCC efforts.

The IPCC reports address the physical reality of climate change, its implications for weather and climate, the resulting impacts, the severe repercussions of sea-level rise and possible measures for adaptation and mitigation over the long term. The reports are a very detailed and robust body of work, of which key elements will be discussed in later posts.

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