Global insurance partnership beefed up to protect poor from climate risks

Source(s): Thomson Reuters Foundation,

A $125 million contribution from Germany aims to help provide climate insurance for 400 million poor people.

By Megan Rowling

BONN, Germany - Germany on Tuesday pledged $125 million to boost the work of an international insurance partnership that aims to cover 400 million more poor and vulnerable people against disaster risks by 2020.

That goal was first set in 2015 by the G7 group of wealthy nations, but the effort has now been expanded to bring in other partners, including the World Bank and an alliance of about 50 countries vulnerable to climate threats, including small island states like Fiji, which is presiding over the talks in Bonn.

In July, Britain contributed 30 million pounds ($39.4 million) to establish a Centre for Global Disaster Protection.

Fiji's prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, said that when powerful Cyclone Winston hit his nation last year, wiping out 30 percent of its economy, tens of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed, and many households were uninsured.

"People protected by their wealth have no idea of the heartbreak of the poor and most vulnerable when they lose their homes and livelihoods in climate-related disasters," he told an event to launch the partnership.

Fiji needs new forms of finance to develop while also reducing the risks of weather extremes and rising seas to tourism, forests, fisheries and agriculture, as well as to infrastructure, much of which is exposed on the coast, he said.

The InsuResilience Global Partnership will develop and roll out innovative finance and insurance solutions for individual countries tailored to the needs and challenges of their poor people in particular, it said.

Those will include sovereign risk pools like the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF), which has paid out $62 million to 10 Caribbean countries since hurricanes Irma and Maria brought destruction to the island states in September.

Using the additional funds announced Tuesday on the sidelines of the U.N. climate talks in Bonn, the global partnership will also aim to expand schemes such as the NWK Agri-Services cotton company in Zambia, which offers weather and life insurance to small contract farmers and is already backed by InsuResilience.

In 2015, some 52,000 farmers bought insurance, of whom more than 23,000 received payments after a major drought in 2016.

Allen Chastanet, prime minister of St. Lucia, said the CCRIF had proved to be "an amazing asset", enabling quick access to funds after a disaster. But it was just as important to provide money to help Caribbean nations adapt to climate change to help prevent catastrophic losses, he said.

"Insurance is not dealing with the overall solution. It is dealing with the symptom, not the actual cause," he said.

Aid agencies working in developing countries to reduce the risks of disasters said the partnership must also look at ways to help vulnerable communities prepare better for climate threats, besides providing insurance.

"Insurance doesn't actually reduce risk, and it could be unaffordable for the communities it's meant to cover," said Tracy Carty, head of Oxfam's delegation at the Bonn conference.

"No other choice"

Ibrahim Thiaw, deputy executive director of UN Environment, said the expansion of insurance could help bring down its costs, as has happened in Africa with mobile phones, which are now almost everywhere.

"Insurance is booming around climate. It will grow because people have no other choice. They need that buffer to protect themselves," he told a separate discussion.

The group of climate-vulnerable countries teaming up with InsuResilience, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia and the Philippines, are also working on their own schemes, such as the planned Sustainable Insurance and Takaful Facility, which is based on the principles of Islamic finance.

It aims to close the gaps in insurance protection and disaster risk reduction for its member states' 1 billion people, only 14 percent of whom have access to some form of risk cover.

Members would contribute to a fund that pays out when a disaster hits, as well as supporting adaptation and green projects, said Sara Jane Ahmed of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities. The facility aims to start work next year.

This week, the U.N. climate change secretariat also launched an online platform under the Paris climate agreement that will use artificial intelligence to connect countries seeking innovative insurance solutions with the expertise they need.

U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa said the new efforts would bring together those working to prevent climate disasters and help allay damage across the international community.

"Failing to plan for climate impacts is a huge risk," she said, noting how Hurricane Irma had recently left Barbuda uninhabited for the first time in 300 years while persistent drought is displacing people in Africa's Sahel region, contributing to the migration crisis in Europe.

"It is in our best collective interest to build resilient societies," she added.

($1 = 0.7619 pounds)

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