Business heads say innovate, collaborate on climate adaptation

Clare Saxon Ghauri
20 September 2011

NEW YORK: As part of the Climate Week NYC Opening Ceremony events, The Climate Group and Swiss Re, member of The Climate Group and Founding Sponsor of Climate Week NYC, co-hosted the panel discussion 'Rethinking Resiliency: Innovative Solutions for Climate Adaptation' on Monday September 19, following the Clean Revolution campaign announcement.

The panel, which was made up of senior representatives from leading corporations and organizations including Swiss Re, the World Bank and UNDP, covered how businesses and governments can work together to implement innovative solutions for climate adaptation.

Walter A. Bell, Chairman, Swiss Re Americas Holding Corp., opened the event by stating the critical role of the insurance industry in tackling climate change adaptation. On solving these challenges within vulnerable communities, he said: “To address these risks and unlock new markets it will certainly take new approaches and partnerships -- and a large dose of innovation will certainly be needed.”

Amy Davidsen, Executive Director US, The Climate Group, then evoked the freshly announced Clean Revolution when she commented on climate adaptation: “It’s not just about cost and burden sharing. But also about the opportunity for a better, cleaner, healthier and more prosperous world.”

Rebeca Grynspan, Associate Administrator, UNDP, concentrated on global organizations' reactions to the swell of climate change threats and disasters across the world, especially in poor and vulnerable communities in developing countries. She said: “There is therefore a growing consensus that action into the impacts of climate change is just as urgent as the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Rebeca Grynspan drew attention to the need for public-private partnerships in both climate resilience and adaptation: “Cooperation between governments, civil society and the private sector, hold the key to dramatically scale-up action.” She also added, “[but] a robust policy environment must be in place to provide incentives for both public and private investments”, after which she outlined the UNDP’s work to help at-risk communities create “a conducive environment for investment in climate resilience development” and to encourage private sector involvement. 

Drawing the dialogue back into the context of the Opening Ceremony, Andrew Steer, Special Envoy for Climate Change, the World Bank, started by saying: “The Clean Revolution includes climate adaptation.”

The moderator of the panel, Juan Jose Daboub, CEO, Global Adaptation Institute, focused on the need for acceleration in the development of climate mitigation. He asked Andrew Steer how we can up the pace of awareness, to which he answered “we need to have public policies which will make it more likely to happen”, further boosting the panel’s consensus for public-private partnerships. Andrew Steer also listed key responsive actions including predictive technology, relevant insurance mechanisms and more investment in research.

Also offering available solutions was Anne Hastings, CEO, Fonkoze Financial Services, who described the innovative catastrophe insurance product that Fonkoze developed with Swiss Re after Haiti’s earthquake, as well as the personal struggles of some of the communities exposed to climate change impacts, that she has worked  directly with.

When the panel was shortly swept back to the title subject, Anne Hasting clarified the discussion’s local-level direction: “We are working hard to rethink resilience and understand what it means in the context of the very most vulnerable people in the world.” 

Juan Jose Daboub asked Michel Liès, Chairman, Global Partnerships, Swiss Re, “Why Haiti?” to which Michel Lies responded: “Haiti is just one country of many others, in which we believe the challenge for the industry is to achieve a better penetration […] to prepare for a population for which we all hope will become middle class [and will] accept insurance as something ‘easy’ in life.” 

On obtaining this goal, Michel Lies recalled the collaborative efforts required in taking responsibility of climate change adaptation, when he said that it lies with both insurance companies and “complemented by government initiative”.

John E. Morton, Vice President for Investment Policy, US Overseas Private Investment Corp (OPIC), talked about how OPIC’s strategy for climate change adaptation is about “preventing something from happening, or preventing something from happening in a way that will make it worse at a more local level, than what mitigation seeks to effect”. He also mentioned how innovation had been “triculating up” to OPIC, so was able to boast of the Corporation’s commendable achievements: “This year alone we have gone from renewable energy investment being from 10% of our portfolio, to it being about 30% in one year”. He then impressively added: “We are the only development finance institute in the world which has a carbon cap annually, on the projects that we will support.” 

John Morton summed up the reoccurring and conclusive panel opinion in one sentence, when he explained both OPIC’s success and strategy: “By aligning public capital to catalyze private capital, we create the environment for more resilience throughout mitigation and adaptation insurance.”

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