A major trade group for the insurance industry is warning that it is "exceedingly risky" for companies to blindly accept scientific conclusions around climate change, given the "serious questions" around the extent to which humans cause atmospheric warming.
The assertion was made in a letter to insurance regulators, who will administer the nation's first mandatory climate requirements on corporations in May. Large insurers will have to answer about a dozen questions related to the preparations they are taking to safeguard themselves from climatic hazards.
The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies believes that the new regulation leaves little room for companies to cast doubt on widely accepted assumptions about global warming. Insurers are hamstrung to provide answers that dovetail with the perception of key regulators who believe climate change threatens the industry's financial strength, said Robert Detlefsen, the group's vice president of policy.
"It's fairly obvious that certain regulators have made up their minds about what the answers to those questions are, and are just proceeding on the assumption that their answers, or the ones that they subscribe to, are correct and unimpeachable," Detlefsen said in an interview. "There really is no room, as I see it, for any sort of legitimate, in their minds at least, for legitimate dissent."
The group consists of 1,400 insurance companies that underwrite about 40 percent of the nation's property and casualty premiums, according to its Web site. Only a fraction of its membership, however, would be required to answer the climate survey when the new regulation goes into effect this spring. The rule covers large companies that collect at least $500 million in annual premiums.
State insurance regulators adopted a white paper in 2008 that states "global warming is occurring." That preceded the new regulated survey, which flustered many insurance officials during its drafting. But most of the opposition was rooted in concerns around revealing secrets to competitors and making companies vulnerable to lawsuits, not around doubts about climate science.
Now, four months before insurers have to submit their climate answers, Detlefsen is raising perhaps his strongest concerns around the state of scientific integrity, regulators' belief in those findings, and the way that the companies' answers could be exploited by environmentalists.
"We fear ... that the wording of the survey questions, together with the public pronouncements of some regulators, will inhibit the expression of what might be viewed as unwelcome 'contrarian' responses," Detlefsen wrote in the letter earlier this week.
E-mails said to show some climate scientists 'at war' with others
His concern was based primarily on the release of stolen e-mails late last year from scientists working at the premier Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. Supportive scientists and politicians have largely dismissed the controversy, saying it does not undercut years of research on rising temperatures, expanding seas and precipitation changes.
But Detlefsen's letter says the "e-mails show that a close-knit group of the world's most influential climate scientists actively colluded to subvert the peer-review process ... manufactured pre-determined conclusions through the use of contrived analytic techniques; and discussed destroying data to avoid government freedom-of-information requests."
"Viewed collectively, the CRU e-mails reveal a scientific community in which a group of scientists promoting what has become, through their efforts, the dominant climate-change paradigm are at war with other scientists derisively labeled as 'skeptics,' 'deniers,' and 'contrarians,'" he added.
The upcoming survey regulation has also caused jitters among some regulators. Indiana Insurance Commissioner Carol Cutter, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, an opponent of cap-and-trade legislation, is still considering whether to administer the survey at the state level.
Overall, the insurance industry is addressing climate change, which might increase damage claims, affect insurers' investments, and provide opportunities to offer "green" policies, Joel Ario, Pennsylvania's insurance commissioner and chairman of the national climate change task force that adopted the new survey, said in an interview last week.
"The insurers are perhaps the one group that is more concerned about climate change than the environmentalists," Ario said. "If climate change does pose the risk that environmentalists say it does, then guess who's going to bear that risk on their business? It will be the insurers."