Mandatory climate financial disclosures will help insurers, says expert

Mandatory climate financial disclosures will help insurers, says expert | Insurance Business Australia

Mandatory climate financial disclosures will help insurers, says expert

Worldwide moves towards mandatory climate related financial disclosures are gathering pace and set to have a major impact on insurance companies. Last week, the European Parliament approved a law making these disclosures compulsory. The rules are expected to roll out to member states in 2024. The issue is also a hot topic at the current COP27 climate conference in Egypt.

“The need for climate-related financial disclosures is increasingly urgent,” said Emmanuel Faber, chair of the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) from the conference stage. Faber, a renowned sustainability activist, is former CEO of Danone, the French international food company. He was ousted by investors for not sufficiently prioritising profit. At COP27 he told Reuters he was hopeful of a “big milestone” for climate disclosures.

In Australia, Terence Jeyaretnam (pictured above) is EY's APAC leader and partner for climate change and sustainability services. He said he expects the government here to make announcements around mandatory climate disclosure “going forward.”  

Jeyaretnam referred to New Zealand, where these disclosures are becoming mandatory under the XRB (External Reporting Board). According to the XRB, climate-related disclosures are set to be compulsory for firms including large, listed companies with a market capitalisation of more than $60 million, large-licensed insurers and registered banks. The XRB’s first climate standards are being issued next month for inclusion in financial reports in 2023.

Read next: Global climate disclosure standards are coming – how can insurers prepare?

“So it is mandatory now across a number of other jurisdictions,” said Jeyaretnam. “The new Australian government has talked about mandatory climate risk disclosure and if we then look at some of the budget announcements there’s funding put aside for adopting international standards for mandatory climate risk disclosure.”  

The EY climate change expert said he expects these rules to help the insurance industry.

“Mandatory disclosure is a good thing for the insurance industry because if you're insuring, let's say, an Australian agricultural company that has cattle in floodplains, you might want to know what they've done to assess climate risk and how they're mitigating or how they're managing that risk,” he said. 

Jeyaretnam said, as an insurer, it’s useful if a company does this work because it helps you better understand the risks and work out management plans to mitigate or prevent them.

“So that the risk is minimised and therefore the premiums and risk of insurance payouts is reduced,” he said. 

Jeyaretnam expects insurance companies that are not yet convinced by the implications of climate disclosure obligations, to come on board.

“I think the whole sector will come along, particularly as they start to see the premiums and claims escalating,” he said. “The insurance industry is very good at data and actuarial modelling and understanding what this may mean.”

As an example, he said the industry is at the forefront of future climate modelling.

Australian insurance companies may be willing to embrace compulsory climate related financial disclosures, however a recent survey could cast doubt on how seriously some Australian executives take the extreme weather risks linked to climate change.

According to an Executive Opinion Survey released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Marsh McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, Australian executives identified the cost-of-living crisis as the top threat to their businesses followed by rising inflation and the debt crises. Geo-economic confrontation came in at position four with failure of climate-change adaptation next. Risks relating to extreme weather didn’t make the top five.

“It’s important that as we become aware of new risks, we do not forget existing and known risks,” said Jaimie Sach, chief risk officer for Zurich Australia and New Zealand. “It’s very important that we do not lose sight of prioritising a cleaner future and building resilience to extreme weather.”

Read next: Is Zurich the most environmentally responsible insurer?

A Zurich media release said this year’s findings were in “sharp contrast” to 2021’s, particularly in key areas such as technological and environmental risk.

“Environmental issues featured significantly lower as a top five risk for G20 countries in this year’s report, compared to 2021,” said the release.

Sach said this lack of urgency around environmental risks among Australia’s leaders could be explained by the timing of the survey.

“The survey was conducted between April and August 2022, meaning Australia’s current flooding, and indeed recent issues related to cyber security, had yet to come to the fore,” he said.

Sach said one key lesson from the report is how quickly the risk landscape can shift.

“It serves as an important reminder that not only should we protect ourselves against known risks, but we should also look out for new risks which can become sizeable very quickly,” he said.