The U.S. insurance industry told Senators that a surge in weather-related catastrophes has forced billions of dollars in payouts, offering an assessment at odds with Republicans who have expressed doubt about global warming.
The Reinsurance Association of America, which represents companies such as Swiss Re Ltd. (SREN) and Munich Re, today urged Congress to have federal agencies consider climate risk in project reviews, and offer tax incentives to help homeowners prepare for severe hurricanes, floods, droughts and fires.
“The industry is at great financial peril if it does not understand global and regional climate impacts, variability and developing scientific assessment of a changing climate,” Franklin Nutter, president of the association, said in testimony to the Senate Environment and Public Works committee. “We are committed to work with you to address the exposure of citizens and their property to extreme weather risk.”
The affect of these weather events is exacerbated by the growth in population and building in coastal and rural areas, he said.
The group was the one industry voice among a panel of experts discussing global warming at the hearing. Republicans questioned whether global warming is happening, if man-made emissions of greenhouse gases is causing weather changes and if the costs of trying to address carbon emissions is worth it.
“What we need to talk about is jobs,” said Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican. Democrats and President Barack Obama “are willing to bet the economy today on an uncertain” prediction “about the future,” he said at the hearing.
Barrasso objected to Obama’s pledge to use executive powers to develop regulations that would limit greenhouse-gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and eliminate U.S. support for coal projects built in poor nations. Those efforts will raise the cost of energy and could put coal producers out of business, and lead to a loss in jobs, he said.
Saying science had put to rest the question about whether the planet is warming, Obama argued that limiting emissions would spur technological advancement and new jobs.
“I don’t have much patience for anyone that denies that this challenge is real,” Obama said June 25 at Georgetown University.
Republicans took issue with that statement today. While most climate researchers say the science is settled that greenhouse-gas emissions are causing global warming, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana said the climate is always changing, and that solar flares, natural emissions of carbon dioxide or cosmic rays may be the cause of current weather patterns.
“The climate has always and will always be changing because there are influences on our climate that will always be outside Congress’s control,” Vitter said.
As a week-long heatwave pushed Washington’s temperatures today to near a high for the year, Democratic lawmakers said they weren’t sure what kind of evidence would persuade Republicans that global warming is real.
“I don’t know what it will take to convince you of what is going on outside the window,” California Democrat Barbara Boxer, the chairman of the panel, said.
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