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Helen YatesMay 05, 2020
Climate Change: The cost of inaction
Climate Change: The cost of inaction
Climate Change: The Cost of Inaction
May 05, 2020

With pressure from multiple directions for a change in the approach to climate risk, how the insurance industry responds is under scrutiny Severe threats to the climate account for all of the top long-term risks in this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) “Global Risks Report.” For the first time in the survey’s 10-year outlook, the top five global risks in terms of likelihood are all environmental. From an industry perspective, each one of these risks has potentially significant consequences for insurance and reinsurance companies: Extreme weather events with major damage to property, infrastructure and loss of human life Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation by governments and businesses Man-made environmental damage and disasters including massive oil spills and incidents of radioactive contamination Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse (terrestrial or marine) with irreversible consequences for the environment, resulting in severely depleted resources for humans as well as industries Major natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and geomagnetic storms “There is mounting pressure on companies from investors, regulators, customers and employees to demonstrate their resilience to rising climate volatility,” says John Drzik, chairman of Marsh and McLennan Insights. “Scientific advances mean that climate risks can now be modeled with greater accuracy and incorporated into risk management and business plans. High-profile events, like recent wildfires in Australia and California, are adding pressure on companies to take action on climate risk.” There is mounting pressure on companies from investors, regulators, customers and employees to demonstrate their resilience to rising climate volatility”  John Drzik Marsh and McLennan Insights In December 2019, the Bank of England introduced new measures for insurers, expecting them to assess, manage and report on the financial risks of climate change as part of the bank’s 2021 Biennial Exploratory Scenario (BES) exercise. The BES builds on the Prudential Regulatory Authority’s Insurance Stress Test 2019, which asked insurers to stress test their assets and liabilities based on a series of future climate scenarios. The Network for the Greening of the Financial System shows how regulators in other countries are moving in a similar direction. “The BES is a pioneering exercise, which builds on the considerable progress in addressing climate-related risks that has already been made by firms, central banks and regulators,” said outgoing Bank of England governor Mark Carney. “Climate change will affect the value of virtually every financial asset; the BES will help ensure the core of our financial system is resilient to those changes.” The insurance industry’s approach to climate change is evolving. Industry-backed groups such as ClimateWise have been set up to respond to the challenges posed by climate change while also influencing policymakers. “Given the continual growth in exposure to natural catastrophes, insurance can no longer simply rely on a strategy of assessing and re-pricing risk,” says Maurice Tulloch, former chair of ClimateWise and CEO of international insurance at Aviva. “Doing so threatens a rise of uninsurable markets.” The Cost of Extreme Events In the past, property catastrophe (re)insurers were able to recalibrate their perception of natural catastrophe risk on an annual basis, as policies came up for renewal, believing that changes to hazard frequency and/or severity would occur incrementally over time. However, it has become apparent that some natural hazards have a much greater climate footprint than had been previously imagined. Attribution studies are helping insurers and other stakeholders to measure the financial impact of climate change on a specific event. “You have had events in the last few years that have a climate change signature to them,” says Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer of science and technology at RMS. “That could include wildfire in California or extraordinary amounts of rainfall during Hurricane Harvey over Houston, or the intensity of hurricanes in the Caribbean, such as Irma, Maria and Dorian. “These events appear to be more intense and severe than those that have occurred in the past,” he continues. “Attribution studies are corroborating the fact that these natural disasters really do have a climate change signature. It was a bit experimental to start with, but now it’s just become a regular part of the picture, that after every event a designated attribution study program will be undertaken … often by more than one climate lab. “In the past it was a rather futile argument whether or not an event had a greater impact because of climate change, because you couldn’t really prove the point,” he adds. “Now it’s possible to say not only if an event has a climate change influence, but by how much. The issue isn’t whether something was or was not climate change, it’s that climate change has affected the probability of an event like that by this amount. That is the nature of the conversation now, which is an intelligent way of thinking about it.” Now it’s possible to say not only if an event has a climate change influence, but by how much. The issue isn’t whether something was or was not climate change, it’s that climate change has affected the probability of an event like that by this amount  Robert Muir-Wood RMS Record catastrophe losses in 2017 and 2018 — with combined claims costing insurers US$230 billion, according to Swiss Re sigma — have had a significant impact on the competitive and financial position of many property catastrophe (re)insurers. The loss tally from 2019 was less severe, with global insurance losses below the 10-year average at US$56 billion, but Typhoons Faxai and Hagibis caused significant damage to Japan when they occurred just weeks apart in September and October. “It can be argued that the insurance industry is the only sector that is going to be able to absorb the losses from climate change,” adds Muir-Wood. “Companies already feel they are picking up losses in this area and it’s a bit uncharted — you can’t just use the average of history. It doesn’t really work anymore. So, we need to provide the models that give our clients the comfort of knowing how to handle and price climate change risks in anticipation.” The Cost of Short-Termism While climate change is clearly on the agenda of the boards of international insurance and reinsurance firms, its emphasis differs from company to company, according to the Geneva Association. In a report, the industry think tank found that insurers are hindered from scaling up their contribution to climate adaptation and mitigation by barriers that are imposed at a public policy and regulatory level. The need to take a long-term view on climate change is at odds with the pressures that insurance companies are under as public and regulated entities. Shareholder expectations and the political demands to keep insurance rates affordable are in conflict with the need to charge a risk-adjusted price or reduce exposures in regions that are highly catastrophe exposed. Examples of this need to protect property owners from full risk pricing became an election issue in the Florida market when state-owned carrier Florida Citizens supported customers with effectively subsidized premiums. The disproportionate emphasis on using the historical record as a means of modeling the probability of future losses is a further challenge for the private market operating in the state. “In the past when insurers were confronted with climate change, they were comfortable with the sense that they could always put up the price or avoid writing the business if the risk got too high,” says Muir-Wood. “But I don’t think that’s a credible position anymore. We see situations, such as in California, where insurers are told they should already have priced in climate change risk and they need to use the average of the last 30 years, and that’s obviously a challenge for the solvency of insurers. Regulators want to be up to speed on this. If levels of risk are increasing, they need to make sure that (re)insurance companies can remain solvent. That they have enough capital to take on those risks. “The Florida Insurance Commissioner’s function is more weighted to look after the interests of consumers around insurance prices, and they maintain a very strong line that risk models should be calibrated against the long-term historical averages,” he continues. “And they’ve said that both in Florida for hurricane and in California for wildfire. And in a time of change and a time of increased risk, that position is clearly not in the interest of insurers, and they need to be thinking carefully about that. “Regulators want to be up to speed on this,” he adds. “If levels of risk are increasing, they need to make sure that (re)insurance companies can remain solvent. That they have enough capital to take on those risks. And supervisors will expect the companies they regulate to turn up with extremely good arguments and a demonstration of the data behind their position as to how they are pricing their risk and managing their portfolios.” The Reputational Cost of Inaction Despite the persistence of near-term pressures, a lack of action and a long-term view on climate change is no longer a viable option for the industry. In part, this is due to a mounting reputational cost. European and Australian (re)insurers have, for instance, been more proactive in divesting from fossil fuels than their American and Asian counterparts. This is expected to change as negative attention mounts in both mainstream and social media. The industry’s retreat from coal is gathering pace as public pressure on the fossil fuel industry and its supporters grows. The number of insurers withdrawing cover for coal more than doubled in 2019, with coal exit policies announced by 17 (re)insurance companies. “The role of insurers is to manage society’s risks — it is their duty and in their own interest to help avoid climate breakdown,” says Peter Bosshard, coordinator of the Unfriend Coal campaign. “The industry’s retreat from coal is gathering pace as public pressure on the fossil fuel industry and its supporters grows.” The influence of climate change activists such as Greta Thunberg, the actions of NGO pressure groups like Unfriend Coal and growing climate change disclosure requirements are building a critical momentum and scrutiny into the action (or lack thereof) taken by insurance senior management. “If you are in the driver’s seat of an insurance company and you know your customers’ attitudes are shifting quite fast, then you need to avoid looking as though you are behind the curve,” says Muir-Wood. “Quite clearly there is a reputational side to this. Attitudes are changing, and as an industry we should anticipate that all sorts of things that are tolerated today will become unacceptable in the future.” To understand your organization’s potential exposure to climate change contact the RMS team here

NIGEL ALLENSeptember 06, 2019
gap
gap
A Need for Multi-Gap Analysis
September 06, 2019

The insurance protection gap is composed of emerging markets and high-risk and intangible exposures There cannot be many industries that recognize that approximately 70 percent of market potential is untapped. Yet that is the scale of opportunity in the expanding “protection gap”. Power outage in lower Manhattan, New York, after Hurricane Sandy While efforts are ongoing to plug the colossal shortage, any meaningful industry foray into this barren range must acknowledge that the gap is actually multiple gaps, believes Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at RMS.  “It is composed of three distinct insurance gaps — high risk, emerging markets and intangibles — each with separate causes and distinct solutions. Treating it as one single challenge means we will never achieve the loss clarity to tackle the multiple underlying issues.” High-risk, high-value gaps exist in regions where potential loss magnitude outweighs the ability of the industry to refund post-catastrophe. High deductibles and exclusions reduce coverage appeal and stunt market growth. “Take California earthquake. The California Earthquake Authority (CEA) was launched in 1996 to tackle the coverage dilemma exposed by the Northridge disaster. Yet increased deductibles and new exclusions led to a 30 percent gap expansion. And while recent changes have seen purchase uptick, penetration is around 12-14 percent for California homeowners.” On the emerging market front, micro- and meso-insurance and sovereign risk transfer efforts to bridge the gap have achieved limited success. “The shortfall in emerging economies remains static at between 80 to 100 percent,” he states, “and it is not just a developing world issue, it’s clearly evident in mature markets like Italy.” “The protection gap is composed of three distinct insurance gaps — high risk, emerging markets and intangibles — each with separate causes and distinct solutions” Robert Muir-Wood RMS A further fast-expanding gap is intangible assets. “In 1975, physical assets accounted for 83 percent of the value of S&P 500 companies,” Muir-Wood points out. “By 2015, that figure was 16 percent, with 84 percent composed of intangible assets such as IP, client data, brand value and innovation potential.”  While non-damage business interruption cover is evolving, expanding client demand for events such as power outage, cloud disruption and cyberbreach greatly outpace delivery. To start closing these gaps, Muir-Wood believes protection gap analytics are essential. “We have to first establish a consistent measurement for the difference between insured and total loss and split out ‘penetration’ and ‘coverage’ gaps. That gives us our baseline from which to set appropriate targets and monitor progress. “Probabilistic cat risk models will play a central role, particularly for the high-risk protection gap, where multiple region and peril-specific models already exist. However, for intangibles and emerging markets, where such models have yet to gain a strong foothold, focusing on scenario events might prove a more effective approach.” Variations in the gaps according to severity and geography of the catastrophe could be expressed in the form of an exceedance probability curve, showing how the percentage of uninsured risk varies by return period. “There should be standardization in measuring and reporting the gap,” he concludes. “This should include analyzing insured and economic loss based on probabilistic models, separating the effects of the penetration and coverage gaps, and identifying how gaps vary with annual probability and location.” 

Helen YatesSeptember 06, 2019
Infographic
Infographic
Risk in 2030
September 06, 2019

At this year’s RMS Exceedance conference in Miami, Robert Muir-Wood and Michael Steel imagined 10 future risks

Helen YatesSeptember 06, 2019
RiskTropism
RiskTropism
Like Moths to the Flame
September 06, 2019

Why is it that, in many different situations and perils, people appear to want to relocate toward the risk? What is the role of the private insurance and reinsurance industry in curbing their clients’ risk tropism?  Florida showed rapid percentage growth in terms of exposure and number of policyholders If the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 were to occur again today it would result in insurance losses approaching US$200 billion. Even adjusted for inflation, that is hundreds of times more than the US$100 million damage toll in 1926. Over the past 100 years, the Florida coast has developed exponentially, with wealthy individuals drawn to buying lavish coastal properties — and the accompanying wind and storm-surge risks. Since 2000, the number of people living in coastal areas of Florida increased by 4.2 million, or 27 percent, to 19.8 million in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This is an example of unintended “risk tropism,” explains  Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at RMS. Just as the sunflower is a ‘heliotrope’, turning toward the sun, research has shown how humans have an innate drive to live near water, on a river or at the beach, often at increased risk of flood hazards.   “There is a very strong human desire to find the perfect primal location for your house. It is something that is built deeply into the human psyche,” Muir-Wood explains. “People want to live with the sound of the sea, or in the forest ‘close to nature,’ and they are drawn to these locations thinking about all the positives and amenity values, but not really understanding or evaluating the accompanying risk factors. “People will pay a lot to live right next to the ocean,” he adds. “It’s an incredibly powerful force and they will invest in doing that, so the price of land goes up by a factor of two or three times when you get close to the beach.”  Even when beachfront properties are wiped out in hurricane catastrophes, far from driving individuals away from a high-risk zone, research shows they simply “build back bigger,” says Muir-Wood. “The disaster can provide the opportunity to start again, and wealthier people move in and take the opportunity to rebuild grander houses. At least the new houses are more likely to be built to code, so maybe the reduction in vulnerability partly offsets the increased exposure at risk.” Risk tropism can also be found with the encroachment of high-value properties into the wildlands of California, leading to a big increase in wildfire insurance losses. Living close to trees can be good for mental health until those same trees bring a conflagration. Insurance losses due to wildfire exceeded US$10 billion in 2017 and have already breached US$12 billion for last year’s Camp, Hill and Woolsey Fires, according to the California Department of Insurance. It is not the number of fires that have increased, but the number of houses consumed by the fires.  “Insurance tends to stop working when you have levels of risk above one percent […] People are unprepared to pay for it” Robert Muir-Wood RMS Muir-Wood notes that the footprint of the 2017 Tubbs Fire, with claims reaching to nearly US$10 billion, was very similar to the area burned during the Hanley Fire of 1964. The principal difference in outcome is driven by how much housing has been developed in the path of the fire. “If a fire like that arrives twice in one hundred years to destroy your house, then the amount you are going to have to pay in insurance premium is going to be more than 2 percent of the value per year,” he says.  “People will think that’s unjustified and will resist it, but actually insurance tends to stop working when you have levels of risk cost above 1 percent of the property value, meaning, quite simply, that people are unprepared to pay for it.”   Risk tropism can also be found in the business sector, in the way that technology companies have clustered in Silicon Valley: a tectonic rift within a fast-moving tectonic plate boundary. The tectonics have created the San Francisco Bay and modulate the climate to bring natural air-conditioning. “Why is it that, around the world, the technology sector has picked locations  — including Silicon Valley, Seattle, Japan and Taiwan — that are on plate boundaries and are earthquake prone?” asks Muir-Wood. “There seems to be some ideal mix of mountains and water. The Bay Area is a very attractive environment, which has brought the best students to the universities and has helped companies attract some of the smartest people to come and live and work in Silicon Valley,” he continues. “But one day there will be a magnitude 7+ earthquake in the Bay Area that will bring incredible disruption, that will affect the technology firms themselves.” Insurance and reinsurance companies have an important role to play in informing and dissuading organizations and high net worth individuals from being drawn toward highly exposed locations; they can help by pricing the risk correctly and maintaining underwriting discipline. The difficulty comes when politics and insurance collide.  The growth of Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) plans and beach plans, offering more affordable insurance in parts of the U.S. that are highly exposed to wind and quake perils, is one example of how this function is undermined. At its peak, the size of the residual market in hurricane-exposed states was US$885 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). It has steadily been reduced, partly as a result of the influx of non-traditional capacity from the ILS market and competitive pricing in the general reinsurance market.  However, in many cases the markets-of-last-resort remain some of the largest property insurers in coastal states. Between 2005 and 2009 (following Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne in 2004), the plans in Mississippi, Texas and Florida showed rapid percentage growth in terms of exposure and number of policyholders. A factor fueling this growth, according to the III, was the rise in coastal properties.  As long as state-backed insurers are willing to subsidize the cost of cover for those choosing to locate in the riskiest locations, private (re)insurance will fail as an effective check on risk tropism, thinks Muir-Wood. “In California there are quite a few properties that have not been able to get standard fire insurance,” he observes. “But there are state or government-backed schemes available, and they are being used by people whose wildfire risk is considered to be too high.”

Helen YatesMay 20, 2019
The future of risk management
The future of risk management
The Future of Risk Management
May 20, 2019

(Re)insuring new and emerging risks requires data and, ideally, a historical loss record upon which to manage an exposure. But what does the future of risk management look like when so many of these exposures are intangible or unexpected?  Sudden and dramatic breakdowns become more likely in a highly interconnected and increasingly polarized world, warns the “Global Risks Report 2019” from the World Economic Forum (WEF). “Firms should focus as much on risk response as on risk mitigation,” advises John Drzik, president of global risk and digital at Marsh, one of the report sponsors. “There’s an inevitability to having a certain number of shock events, and firms should focus on how to respond to fast-moving events with a high degree of uncertainty.” Macrotrends such as climate change, urbanization and digitization are all combining in a way that makes major claims more impactful when things go wrong. But are all low-probability/high-consequence events truly beyond our ability to identify and manage? Dr. Gordon Woo, catastrophist at RMS, believes that in an age of big data and advanced analytics, information is available that can help corporates, insurers and reinsurers to understand the plethora of new and emerging risks they face. “The sources of emerging risk insight are out there,” says Woo. “The challenge is understanding the significance of the information available and ensuring it is used to inform decision-makers.” However, it is not always possible to gain access to the insight needed. “Some of the near-miss data regarding new software and designs may be available online,” says Woo. “For example, with the Boeing 737 Max 8, there were postings by pilots where control problems were discussed prior to the Lion Air disaster of October 2018. Equally, intelligence information on terrorist plots may be available from online terrorist chatter. But typically, it is much harder for individuals to access this information, other than security agencies. “Peter Drucker [consultant and author] was right when he said: ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it,’” he adds. “And this is the issue for (re)insurers when it comes to emerging risks. There is currently not a lot of standardization between risk compliance systems and the way the information is gathered, and corporations are still very reluctant to give information away to insurers.” The Intangibles Protection Gap While traditional physical risks, such as fire and flood, are well understood, well modeled and widely insured, new and emerging risks facing businesses and communities are increasingly intangible and risk transfer solutions are less widely available. While there is an important upside to many technological innovations, for example, there are also downsides that are not yet fully understood or even recognized, thinks Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer of science and technology at RMS. “Last year’s Typhoon Jebi caused coastal flooding in the Kansai region of Japan,” he says. “There were a lot of cars on the quayside close to where the storm made landfall and many of these just caught on fire. It burnt out a large number of cars that were heading for export. “The reason for the fires was the improved capability of batteries in cars,” he explains. “And when these batteries are immersed in water they burst into flames. So, with this technology you’ve created a whole new peril. There is currently not a lot of standardization between risk compliance systems and the way the information is gathered Gordon Woo RMS “As new technology emerges, new risks emerge,” he concludes. “And it’s not as though the old risks go away. They sort of morph and they always will. Clearly the more that software becomes a critical part of how things function, then there is more of an opportunity for things to go wrong.” From nonphysical-damage business interruption and reputational harm to the theft of intellectual property and a cyber data breach, the ability for underwriters to get a handle on these risks and potential losses is one of the industry’s biggest modern-day challenges. The dearth of products and services for esoteric commercial risks is known as the “intangibles protection gap,” explains Muir-Wood. “There is this question within the whole span of risk management of organizations — of which an increasing amount is intangible — whether they will be able to buy insurance for those elements of their risk that they feel they do not have control over.” While the (re)insurance industry is responding with new products and services geared toward emerging risks, such as cyber, there are some organizational perils, such as reputational risk, that are best addressed by instilling the right risk management culture and setting the tone from the top within organizations, thinks Wayne Ratcliffe, head of risk management at SCOR. “Enterprise risk management is about taking a holistic view of the company and having multidisciplinary teams brainstorming together,” he says. “It’s a tendency of human nature to work in silos in which everyone has their own domain to protect and to work on, but working across an organization is the only way to carry out proper risk management. “There are many causes and consequences of reputational risk, for instance,” he continues. “When I think of past examples where things have gone horribly wrong — and there are so many of them, from Deepwater Horizon to Enron — in certain cases there were questionable ethics and a failure in risk management culture. Companies have to set the tone at the top and then ensure it has spread across the whole organization. This requires constant checking and vigilance.” The best way of checking that risk management procedures are being adhered to is by being really close to the ground, thinks Ratcliffe. “We’re moving too far into a world of emails and communication by Skype. What people need to be doing is talking to each other in person and cross-checking facts. Human contact is essential to understanding the risk.” Spotting the Next “Black Swan” What of future black swans? As per Donald Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns,” so called black swan events are typically those that come from left field. They take everyone by surprise (although are often explained away in hindsight) and have an impact that cascades through economic, political and social systems in ways that were previously unimagined, with severe and widespread consequences. “As (re)insurers we can look at past data, but you have to be aware of the trends and forces at play,” thinks Ratcliffe. “You have to be aware of the source of the risk. In ‘The Big Short’ by Michael Lewis, the only person who really understood the impending subprime collapse was the one who went house-to-house asking people if they were having trouble paying their mortgages, which they were. New technologies are creating more opportunities but they’re also making society more vulnerable to sophisticated cyberattacks Wayne Ratcliffe SCOR “Sometimes you need to go out of the bounds of data analytics into a more intuition-based way of picking up signals where there is no data,” he continues. “You need imagination and to come up with scenarios that can happen based on a group of experts talking together and debating how exposures can connect and interconnect. “It’s a little dangerous to base everything on big data measurement and statistics, and at SCOR we talk about the ‘art and science of risk,’” he continues. “And science is more than statistics. We often need hard science behind what we are measuring. A single-point estimate of the measure is not sufficient. We also need confidence intervals corresponding to a range of probabilities.” In its “Global Risks Report 2019,” the WEF examines a series of “what-if” future shocks and asks if its scenarios, while not predictions, are at least “a reminder of the need to think creatively about risk and to expect the unexpected?” The WEF believes future shocks could come about as a result of advances in technology, the depletion of global resources and other major macrotrends clashing in new and extreme ways. “The world is becoming hyperconnected,” says Ratcliffe. “People are becoming more dependent on social media, which is even shaping political decisions, and organizations are increasingly connected via technology and the internet of things. New technologies are creating more opportunities but they’re also making society more vulnerable to sophisticated cyberattacks. We have to think about the systemic nature of it all.” As governments are pressured to manage the effects of climate change, for instance, will the use of weather manipulation tools — such as cloud seeding to induce or suppress rainfall — result in geopolitical conflict? Could biometrics and AI that recognize and respond to emotions be used to further polarize and/or control society? And will quantum computing render digital cryptography obsolete, leaving sensitive data exposed? The risk of cyberattack was the No. 1 risk identified by business leaders in virtually all advanced economies in the WEF’s “Global Risks Report 2019,” with concern about both data breach and direct attacks on company infrastructure causing business interruption. The report found that cyberattacks continue to pose a risk to critical infrastructure, noting the attack in July 2018 that compromised many U.S. power suppliers. In the attack, state-backed Russian hackers gained remote access to utility- company control rooms in order to carry out reconnaissance. However, in a more extreme scenario the attackers were in a position to trigger widespread blackouts across the U.S., according to the Department of Homeland Security. Woo points to a cyberattack that impacted Norsk Hydro, the company that was responsible for a massive bauxite spill at an aluminum plant in Brazil last year, with a targeted strain of ransomware known as “LockerGoga.” With an apparent motivation to wreak revenge for the environmental damage caused, hackers gained access to the company’s IT infrastructure, including the control systems at its aluminum smelting plants. He thinks a similar type of attack by state-sponsored actors could cause significantly greater disruption if the attackers’ motivation was simply to cause damage to industrial control systems. Woo thinks cyber risk has significant potential to cause a major global shock due to the interconnected nature of global IT systems. “WannaCry was probably the closest we’ve come to a cyber 911,” he explains. “If the malware had been released earlier, say January 2017 before the vulnerability was patched, losses would have been a magnitude higher as the malware would have spread like measles as there was no herd immunity. The release of a really dangerous cyber weapon with the right timing could be extremely powerful.”

Helen YatesMay 20, 2019
Opening Pandora’s
Opening Pandora’s
Opening Pandora's Box
May 20, 2019

With each new stride in hazard research and science comes the ability to better calculate and differentiate risk  Efforts by RMS scientists and engineers to better understand liquefaction vulnerability is shedding new light on the secondary earthquake hazard. However, this also makes it more likely that, unless they can charge for the risk, (re)insurance appetite will diminish for some locations while also increasing in other areas. A more differentiated approach to underwriting and pricing is an inevitable consequence of investment in academic research. Once something has been learned, it cannot be unlearned, explains Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at RMS. “In the old days, everybody paid the same for insurance because no one had the means to actually determine how risk varied from location to location, but once you learn how to differentiate risk well, there’s just no going back. It’s like Pandora’s box has been opened. “There are two general types of liquefaction that are just so severe that no one should build on them” Tim Ancheta RMS “At RMS we are neutral on risk,” he adds. “It’s our job to work for all parties and provide the best neutral science-based perspective on risk, whether that’s around climate change in California or earthquake risk in New Zealand. And we and our clients believe that by having the best science-based assessment of risk they can make effective decisions about their risk management.” Spotting a Gap in the Science On September 28, 2018, a large and shallow M7.5 earthquake struck Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, triggering a tsunami over 2 meters in height. The shaking and tsunami caused widespread devastation in and around the provincial capital Palu, but according to a report published by the GEER Association, it was liquefaction and landslides that caused thousands of buildings to collapse in a catastrophe that claimed over 4,000 lives. It was the latest example of a major earthquake that showed that liquefaction — where the ground moves and behaves as if it is a liquid — can be a much bigger driver of loss than previously thought. The Tōhoku Earthquake in Japan during 2011 and the New Zealand earthquakes in Christchurch in 2010 and 2011 were other high-profile examples. The earthquakes in New Zealand caused a combined insurance industry loss of US$22.8-US$26.2 billion, with widespread liquefaction undermining the structural integrity of hundreds of buildings. Liquefaction has been identified by a local engineer as causing 50 percent of the loss. Now, research carried out by RMS scientists is helping insurers and other stakeholders to better understand the impact that liquefaction can have on earthquake-related losses. It is also helping to pinpoint other parts of the world that are highly vulnerable to liquefaction following earthquake. “Before Christchurch we had not appreciated that you could have a situation where a midrise building may be completely undamaged by the earthquake shaking, but the liquefaction means that the building has suffered differential settlement leaving the floors with a slight tilt, sufficient to be declared a 100 percent loss,” explains Muir-Wood. “We realized for the first time that you actually have to model the damage separately,” he continues. “Liquefaction is completely separate to the damage caused by shaking. But in the past we treated them as much of the same. Separating out the hazards has big implications for how we go about modeling the risk, or identifying other situations where you are likely to have extreme liquefaction at some point in the future.” The Missing Link Tim Ancheta, a risk modeler for RMS based in Newark, California, is responsible for developing much of the understanding about the interaction between groundwater depth and liquefaction. Using data from the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch and boring data from numerous sites across California to calculate groundwater depth, he has been able to identify sites that are particularly prone to liquefaction. “I was hired specifically for evaluating liquefaction and trying to develop a model,” he explains. “That was one of the key goals for my position. Before I joined RMS about seven years back, I was a post-doctoral researcher at PEER — the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center at Berkeley — working on ground motion research. And my doctoral thesis was on the spatial variability of ground motions.” Joining RMS soon after the earthquakes in Christchurch had occurred meant that Ancheta had access to a wealth of new data on the behavior of liquefaction. For the first time, it showed the significance of ground- water depth in determining where the hazard was likely to occur. Research, funded by the New Zealand government, included a survey of liquefaction observations, satellite imagery, a time series of groundwater levels as well as the building responses. It also included data collected from around 30,000 borings. “All that had never existed on such a scale before,” says Ancheta. “And the critical factor here was they investigated both liquefaction sites and non-liquefaction sites — prior surveys had only focused on the liquefaction sites.” Whereas the influence of soil type on liquefaction had been reasonably well understood prior to his research, previous studies had not adequately incorporated groundwater depth. “The key finding was that if you don’t have a clear understanding of where the groundwater is shallow or where it is deep, or the transition — which is important — where you go from a shallow to deep groundwater depth, you can’t turn on and off the liquefaction properly when an earthquake happens,” reveals Ancheta. Ancheta and his team have gone on to collect and digitize groundwater data, geology and boring data in California, Japan, Taiwan and India with a view to gaining a granular understanding of where liquefaction is most likely to occur. “Many researchers have said that liquefaction properties are not regionally dependent, so that if you know the geologic age or types of soils, then you know approximately how susceptible soils can be to liquefaction. So an important step for us is to validate that claim,” he explains. The ability to use groundwater depth has been one of the factors in predicting potential losses that has significantly reduced uncertainty within the RMS suite of earthquake models, concentrating the losses in smaller areas rather than spreading them over an entire region. This has clear implications for (re)insurers and policymakers, particularly as they seek to determine whether there are any “no-go” areas within cities. “There are two general types of liquefaction that are just so severe that no one should build on them,” says Ancheta. “One is lateral spreading where the extensional strains are just too much for buildings. In New Zealand, lateral spreading was observed at numerous locations along the Avon River, for instance.” California is altogether more challenging, he explains. “If you think about all the rivers that flow through Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area, you can try and model them in the same way as we did with the Avon River in Christchurch. We discovered that not all rivers have a similar lateral spreading on either side of the riverbank. Where the river courses have been reworked with armored slopes or concrete linings — essentially reinforcement — it can actually mitigate liquefaction-related displacements.” The second type of severe liquefaction is called “flow slides” triggered by liquefaction, which is where the soil behaves almost like a landslide. This was the type of liquefaction that occurred in Central Sulawesi when the village of Balaroa was entirely destroyed by rivers of soil, claiming entire neighborhoods. “It’s a type of liquefaction that is extremely rare,” he adds. “but they can cause tens to hundreds of meters of displacement, which is why they are so devastating. But it’s much harder to predict the soils that are going to be susceptible to them as well as you can for other types of liquefaction surface expressions.” Ancheta is cognizant of the fact that a no-build zone in a major urban area is likely to be highly contentious from the perspective of homeowners, insurers and policymakers, but insists that now the understanding is there, it should be acted upon. “The Pandora’s box for us in the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence was the fact that the research told us where the lateral spreading would occur,” he says. “We have five earthquakes that produced lateral spreading so we knew with some certainty where the lateral spreading would occur and where it wouldn’t occur. With severe lateral spreading you just have to demolish the buildings affected because they have been extended so much.”

Helen YatesSeptember 05, 2018
Are we moving off the baseline
Are we moving off the baseline
Are We Moving Off The Baseline?
September 05, 2018

How is climate change influencing natural perils and weather extremes, and what should reinsurance companies do to respond? Reinsurance companies may feel they are relatively insulated from the immediate effects of climate change on their business, given that most property catastrophe policies are renewed on an annual basis. However, with signs that we are already moving off the historical baseline when it comes to natural perils, there is evidence to suggest that underwriters should already be selectively factoring the influence of climate change into their day-to-day decision-making. Most climate scientists agree that some of the extreme weather anticipated by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013 is already here and can be linked to climate change in real time via the burgeoning field of extreme weather attribution. “It’s a new area of science that has grown up in the last 10 to 15 years,” explains Dr. Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at RMS. “Scientists run two climate models for the whole globe, both of them starting in 1950. One keeps the atmospheric chemistry static since then, while the other reflects the actual increase in greenhouse gases. By simulating thousands of years of these alternative worlds, we can find the difference in the probability of a particular weather extreme.” “Underwriters should be factoring the influence of climate change into their day-to-day decision-making” For instance, climate scientists have run their models in an effort to determine how much the intensity of the precipitation that caused such devastating flooding during last year’s Hurricane Harvey can be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. Research conducted by scientists at the World Weather Attribution (WWA) project has found that the record rainfall produced by Harvey was at least three times more likely to be due to the influence of global warming. This suggests, for certain perils and geographies, reinsurers need to be considering the implications of an increased potential for certain climate extremes in their underwriting. “If we can’t rely on the long-term baseline, how and where do we modify our perspective?” asks Muir-Wood. “We need to attempt to answer this question peril by peril, region by region and by return period. You cannot generalize and say that all perils are getting worse everywhere, because they’re not. In some countries and perils there is evidence that the changes are already material, and then in many other areas the jury is out and it’s not clear.” Keeping Pace With the Change While the last IPCC Assessment Report (AR5) was published in 2014 (the next is due in 2021), there is some consensus on how climate change is beginning to influence natural perils and climate extremes. Many regional climates naturally have large variations at interannual and even interdecadal timescales, which makes observation of climate change, and validation of predictions, more difficult. “There is always going to be uncertainty when it comes to climate change,” emphasizes Swenja Surminski, head of adaptation research at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, part of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). “But when you look at the scientific evidence, it’s very clear what’s happening to temperature, how the average temperature is increasing, and the impact that this can have on fundamental things, including extreme events.” According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report in 2018, “Too little has been done to mitigate climate change and … our own analysis shows that the likelihood of missing the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius or below is greater than the likelihood of achieving it.” The report cites extreme weather events and natural disasters as the top two “most likely” risks to happen in the next 10 years and the second- and third-highest risks (in the same order) to have the “biggest impact” over the next decade, after weapons of mass destruction. The failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation is also ranked in the top five for both likelihood and impact. It notes that 2017 was among the three hottest years on record and the hottest ever without an El Niño. It is clear that climate change is already exacerbating climate extremes, says Surminski, causing dry regions to become drier and hot regions to become hotter. “By now, based on our scientific understanding and also thanks to modeling, we get a much better picture of what our current exposure is and how that might be changing over the next 10, 20, even 50 to 100 years,” she says. “There is also an expectation we will have more freak events, when suddenly the weather produces really unexpected, very unusual phenomena,” she continues. “That’s not just climate change. It’s also tied into El Niño and other weather phenomena occurring, so it’s a complex mix. But right now, we’re in a much better position to understand what’s going on and to appreciate that climate change is having an impact.” Pricing for Climate Change For insurance and reinsurance underwriters, the challenge is to understand the extent to which we have already deviated from the historical record and to manage and price for that appropriately. It is not an easy task given the inherent variability in existing weather patterns, according to Andy Bord, CEO of Flood Re, the U.K.’s flood risk pool, which has a panel of international reinsurers. “The existing models are calibrated against data that already includes at least some of the impact of climate change,” he says. “Some model vendors have also recently produced models that aim to assess the impact of climate change on the future level of flood risk in the U.K. We know at least one larger reinsurer has undertaken their own climate change impact analyses. “We view improving the understanding of the potential variability of weather given today’s climate as being the immediate challenge for the insurance industry, given the relatively short-term view of markets,” he adds. The need for underwriters to appreciate the extent to which we may have already moved off the historical baseline is compounded by the conflicting evidence on how climate change is influencing different perils. And by the counterinfluence or confluence, in many cases, of naturally occurring climate patterns, such as El Niño and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). The past two decades have seen below-normal European windstorm activity, for instance, and evidence builds that the unprecedented reduction in Arctic sea ice during the autumn months is the main cause, according to Dr. Stephen Cusack, director of model development at RMS. “In turn, the sea ice declines have been driven both by the ‘polar amplification’ aspect of anthropogenic climate change and the positive phase of the AMO over the past two decades, though their relative roles are uncertain. “We view improving the understanding of the potential variability of weather given today’s climate as being the immediate challenge for the insurance industry, given the relatively short-term view of markets” Andy Bord Flood Re “The (re)insurance market right now is saying, ‘Your model has higher losses than our recent experience.’ And what we are saying is that the recent lull is not well understood, and we are unsure how long it will last. Though for pricing future risk, the question is when, and not if, the rebound in European windstorm activity happens. Regarding anthropogenic climate change, other mechanisms will strengthen and counter the currently dominant ‘polar amplification’ process. Also, the AMO goes into positive and negative phases,” he continues. “It’s been positive for the last 20 to 25 years and that’s likely to change within the next decade or so.” And while European windstorm activity has been somewhat muted by the AMO, the same cannot be said for North Atlantic hurricane activity. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria (HIM) caused an estimated US$92 billion in insured losses, making 2017 the second costliest North Atlantic hurricane season, according to Swiss Re Sigma. “The North Atlantic seems to remain in an active phase of hurricane activity, irrespective of climate change influences that may come on top of it,” the study states. While individual storms are never caused by one factor alone, stressed the Sigma study, “Some of the characteristics observed in HIM are those predicted to occur more frequently in a warmer world.” In particular, it notes the high level of rainfall over Houston and hurricane intensification. While storm surge was only a marginal contributor to the losses from Hurricane Harvey, Swiss Re anticipates the probability of extreme storm surge damage in the northeastern U.S. due to higher seas will almost double in the next 40 years. “From a hurricane perspective, we can talk about the frequency of hurricanes in a given year related to the long-term average, but what’s important from the climate change point of view is that the frequency and the intensity on both sides of the distribution are increasing,” says Dr. Pete Dailey, vice president at RMS. “This means there’s more likelihood of quiet years and more likelihood of very active years, so you’re moving away from the mean, which is another way of thinking about moving away from the baseline. “So, we need to make sure that we are modeling the tail of the distribution really well, and that we’re capturing the really wet years — the years where there’s a higher frequency of torrential rain in association with events that we model.” The Edge of Insurability Over the long term, the industry likely will be increasingly insuring the impact of anthropogenic climate change. One question is whether we will see “no-go” areas in the future, where the risk is simply too high for insurance and reinsurance companies to take on. As Robert Muir-Wood of RMS explains, there is often a tension between the need for (re)insurers to charge an accurate price for the risk and the political pressure to ensure cover remains available and affordable. He cites the community at Queen’s Cove in Grand Bahama, where homes were unable to secure insurance given the repeated storm surge flood losses they have sustained over the years from a number of hurricanes. Unable to maintain a mortgage without insurance, properties were left to fall into disrepair. “Natural selection came up with a solution,” says Muir-Wood, whereby some homeowners elevated buildings on concrete stilts thereby making them once again insurable.   “In high-income, flood-prone countries, such as Holland, there has been sustained investment in excellent flood defenses,” he says. “The challenge in developing countries is there may not be the money or the political will to build adequate flood walls. In a coastal city like Jakarta, Indonesia, where the land is sinking as a result of pumping out the groundwater, it’s a huge challenge.  “It’s not black and white as to when it becomes untenable to live somewhere. People will find a way of responding to increased incidence of flooding. They may simply move their life up a level, as already happens in Venice, but insurability will be a key factor and accommodating the changes in flood hazard is going to be a shared challenge in coastal areas everywhere.” Political pressure to maintain affordable catastrophe insurance was a major driver of the U.S. residual market, with state-backed Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) plans providing basic property insurance for homes that are highly exposed to natural catastrophes. Examples include the California Earthquake Association, Texas Windstorm Insurance Association and Florida Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (and state reinsurer, the FHCF).  However, the financial woes experienced by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), currently the principal provider of residential flood insurance in the U.S., demonstrates the difficulties such programs face in terms of being sustainable over the long term.   With the U.K.’s Flood Re scheme, investment in disaster mitigation is a big part of the solution, explains CEO Andy Bord. However, even then he acknowledges that “for some homes at the very greatest risk of flooding, the necessary investment needed to reduce risks and costs would simply be uneconomic.”  

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