Strange as it sounds, the next industry group to take substantive action on climate change might just be insurers. In Tuesday’s key vote by the Climate Change and Global Warming Task Force of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, 18 state insurance commissioners voted to approve rules requiring insurers to disclose the impacts of climate change on their business decisions. If the rules are approved by the full committee in March, and each state adopts them, reporting could begin as early as May 2010.
The survey approved by yesterday’s vote asks insurers to annually answer eight questions involving what the company is doing to measure and mitigate its own emissions, how it identifies climate risks in its portfolio, how emerging climate risks could affect coverage, whether the company has altered its investment strategies in light of climate change risks, and what the company is or could be doing to change the behavior of millions of Americans, and reduce our overall risk from climate change. The survey is based on the Carbon Disclosure Project questionnaire, the tool through which over 1550 companies voluntarily reported their emissions in 2008.
The proposed survey is not without controversy. In December, the Task Force agreed to remove a requirement that would have mandated survey answers to be included in each company’s annual financial statements, and made the questions more general to avoid requiring companies to disclose confidential competitive information.
The Task Force is also working on guidance to help insurers answer the questions, and examples of how insurers can change their procedures to reach climate change goals. One idea that has been mentioned is pay-as-you-drive insurance, a policy that could reduce car emissions by rewarding motorists for driving less.
The next step for the proposed survey is a final vote by the full association at the national meeting in March. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners is a voluntary organization of the insurance regulatory officials of all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands). As insurance is actually regulated by each state independently, there is no guarantee all states will adopt the survey. Nonetheless, it seems likely that at least some reporting requirements for insurers are on their way, and with them, probably other companies, too.