Report: Climate change means taxpayers could pay for more disaster cleanups

This past summer’s wildfires in the West and drought in the Midwest showed extreme weather affects more than just coastal regions, Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, the business sustainability group that published the report, said in a Thursday conference call.

Lubber said Congress “needs to look at where the federal government is being asked to pick up markets the insurance companies no longer want to be in, and ask if that’s the right policy.”

Democrats have linked this past summer’s weather events to climate change. They have called for more action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fearing coastal regions will become increasingly exposed to natural disasters as sea levels rise and that drought might become more frequent.

Some Republicans, including GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have questioned how much impact human activity has on climate change. They contend more studies must be performed before the United States commits to policies that might undercut its economic competitiveness.

The report said that losses due to extreme weather events totaled $32 billion in 2011 for property insurance and for casualty insurance, a broad category that can include vehicle, liability and theft policies.

The report also noted the federal government declared a record 99 disasters in 2011, eclipsing the previous record of 81 set in 2010. 

That pattern, combined with recent property and casualty insurance industry financial struggles, could push insurance firms out of certain areas, the report said.

“Insurance sector losses and lackluster financial results have even broader implications,” the report said. “Taken to their logical conclusions, these trends could ultimately undermine our state, regional and national ability to rebound from the shocks of natural disasters."

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said Thursday that the federal government should push insurance companies and states to improve weather forecasting and modeling. He said that could keep insurance companies in volatile regions and prevent rising prices.

“The last thing I want to see is insurance companies pulling out of markets because of the risk they perceive related to climate change events,” Kreidler said.