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Global Warming Gives Swiss Re The Chills

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Executives at a giant reinsurance company are wondering whether climate change caused by air pollution will wreak havoc on the life insurance industry.[@@]

Researchers from Swiss Reinsurance Company, Zurich, have looked at the long-term economic effects of climate change in a report written with researchers from Harvard Medical School and the United Nations Development Programme.

Jacque DuBois, chairman of Swiss Re America Holding Corp., New York, emphasized his company’s concern about global warming by speaking here at a press conference held to discuss the report.

In the report, the authors discuss matters such as evidence of the effects of global warming on health and mortality, including statistics suggesting that the incidence of asthma in the United States has quadrupled since 1980.

At the press conference, Ivo Menzinger, head of sustainability and emerging risk management at Swiss Re, said Swiss Re believes shifting to “clean” energy that does not contribute to global warming is tied to the sustainability of business.

Climate change could lead to property-casualty claims against polluters, storms that could trigger additional property-casualty claims, and storms or other types of disruption that could affect the sustainability of a company or an industry, Menzinger said.

In addition to triggering extra property-casualty claims and death claims, the disruption could hurt Swiss Re’s own investment portfolio, Menzinger said.

Although the picture is not clear, there is a possibility that a shift by institutional investors away from certain companies or industries hurt by climate change could hurt baby boomers’ retirement accounts, DuBois said.

Menzinger said Swiss Re is acting on its concerns by agreeing to become “greenhouse neutral” by 2013. To meet that goal, Swiss Re plans to invest in “carbon-dioxide-free” causes and reduce its own carbon emissions by 50%.