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UN, Companies Call For Climate Insurance For The Poor


The United Nations and a group of international insurance and finance companies are calling Tuesday for creative ways to provide climate insurance to farmers and others affected by climate change. Experts said they are pleased with the results of a pilot climate insurance scheme for farmers in Ethiopia that was implemented earlier this year.

U.N. officials warn that losses from droughts, storms, floods, hurricanes and other extreme weather events linked to climate change are doubling every 12 years.

The officials, from the U.N.'s Environment Program's Finance Initiative, say those hardest hit are the poor in developing countries in Africa and other parts of the world, especially those who rely on the land for their livelihoods.

In a report released Tuesday, the UNEP's Finance Initiative and its working group of 15 global banks, insurance companies and asset managers call for new and creative ways to insure the poor against extreme weather events.

Paul Clements Hunt, coordinator of the Finance Initiative, explains the need for such an approach.

"Climate change is now certain. These institutions have calculated potential disaster losses reaching over one trillion U.S. dollars in a single year by 2040. In 2002, we had calculated that there were in the region of $150 billion of economic losses a year associated with natural weather events and natural disasters," he said.

Hunt said, under current climate trends and their resulting impacts on the economy, it would be almost impossible for countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals set out by the United Nations.

New and innovative insurance schemes resulting from the combined efforts of governments, private companies, and donor funds can take many forms.

For instance, one program under consideration for pastoralists would see them receiving payments triggered when the condition and availability of forage for the livestock they tend deteriorate below a pre-determined point.

The U.N. Environment Program's executive director, Achim Steiner, gives another example from his native Germany.

"A weather event that has often broken the backs of farming communities was hailstones," he said.

"So, under legislation in Germany, and I imagine a number of other countries also, farmers were essentially obliged, all of them, to insure their crops, their fields against hailstorm damage, which brought the premium down significantly and ensure that no farmer in one year would essentially lose their entire livelihood."

In March of this year, the World Food Program launched a humanitarian insurance pilot project in Ethiopia that concluded at the end of October. Under the program, farmers would receive payment if rainfalls were lower than expected.

No payments were made, as rainfall during that period was not below average.

World Food Program spokesman Peter Smerdon said that, nonetheless, experts were pleased with the pilot project's outcome.

"We now see it is feasible to use market mechanisms to finance drought risk in Ethiopia. This is the first time in history that humanitarian risk was transferred out of a developing country using such market mechanisms. It also shows that it's possible to develop objective timing and accurate indicators for triggering drought assistance," he said.

The climate insurance report was unveiled at the U.N.'s Climate Change Conference being held in Kenya's capital. Some 6,000 delegates from around the world are discussing the effects of climate change and what can be done about it.

The conference ends Friday.