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Walter Bell

25 November 2013
Walter Bell

The Clean Revolution is achievable and essential

Walter Bell is the former Chairman of Swiss Re America Holding Corporation.  He spoke at Climate Week NYC 2012 about the role of the insurance industry in addressing climate impacts.

He spoke at the Opening Ceremony of Climate Week NYC in September 2012 on the role farmers can play in reducing US greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen. We at Swiss Re are very proud to be a founding sponsor of Climate Week New York City, and to watch the rapid development of this growth over the few years that it’s been in existence, under the guidance of The Climate Group.  And it’s grown into one of the key events on the climate event calendar throughout the year. 

"Next year Swiss Re will celebrate our 150th anniversary.  And throughout its history our clients have asked us for support managing the impact of severe weather.  And over the past 20 plus years the company has invested a lot of resources to promote comprehensive actions to tackle climate change. 

"Everything we see points to the inescapable conclusion that climate change must be dealt with.  Society must become more resilient to the impact of severe weather.  Events, like Hurricane Isaac of just a few weeks ago, mean flooded homes, blocked roads, damaged bridges and power outages, sometimes for weeks.  People lose their lives, and thousands of businesses lose customers for the duration.  Severe weather cost the US economy about $60 billion last year.

"Reinsurers around the world, as we are, are used to paying out large sums for weather damage in the industrialized world.  But last year that changed with the floods in Thailand.  Of the $30 billion impact to the Thailand floods, $12 billion was insured by global reinsurers - an absolute record for inland, fresh-water flooding anywhere in the world. 

"What we are seeing around the world is just a glimpse of the future – a future that could be thrust upon us because of our inability to take the appropriate actions today.  We have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the limit at which the international community has set to 2 degrees Celsius.  And above that the ecological damages could be irreparable. 

"No one said that tackling climate change was going to be easy, and, certainly in this country, politically uncontroversial.  However the least we must demand is a rational debate to seriously discuss the different courses of action that is available to us. 

"For example, investment in renewable energy makes economic sense, because an unmitigated world costs us much more.  However, although renewable energy is a growing part of the electricity mix, fossil fuel will remain the dominant energy source for some time to come.  Therefore investing in the best practice approaches, such as efficiency gains, carbon-capture and sequestration technology is essential to minimize emissions. 

"But I want to be clear: we will tackle climate change because we have no choice.  The question is: do we choose a reluctant approach where change happens because it is the only viable option left?  Or do we quickly reach a policy consensus, and act in a proactive far-sighted manner?  Either version is an option, but only one makes sense. 

"That option includes integrating climate risk considerations into our strategic decision making processes.  And it includes rapid actions to curb the growth in greenhouse gas emissions to ensure that we stay below that 2 degree Celsius.  This blended approach will set us on the most cost-effective, business and people oriented path towards an enhanced future. 

"I know that the insurance industry has a very important role helping us to get there by creating and producing cutting edge risk-transfer solutions. I also believe that the Clean Revolution is achievable and essential so let’s make sure that the path we take is the wisest one."

Watch the speech recorded live at Climate Week NYC:

Watch on YouTube

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