Environmental and insurance professionals spoke about the challenges of risk science and insurance for climate-driven natural disasters at the first Coastal Climate Resilience Symposium on Thursday. (Aric Sleeper/Santa Cruz Sentinel)
SANTA CRUZ — Experts in climate change, public policy and the insurance industry gathered at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center on Thursday to discuss ways to reduce the risks associated with climate-induced natural disasters using insurance and solutions , nature-based, such as protecting and strengthening wetlands to prevent flooding.
The event, called the Coastal Climate Resilience Symposium, was organized and chaired by UC Santa Cruz marine sciences professor Michael W. Beck in his new role as director of the campus’ newly established Center for Coastal Climate Resilience.
“We’ve been working together at this interface between insurance, risk management and nature for quite some time,” Beck said. “We realized a long time ago that we, as scientists or ecologists, cannot do this alone. Being able to get the industry and the agencies involved to talk with us was the only way to achieve large-scale action.”
Beck pointed out that there is a lot of state and federal money set aside for disaster relief and mitigation after the fact, but not as much budgeted for natural disaster prevention through strategies like nature-based solutions.
“If we can take some of that money and apply it to nature-based solutions, we can expand the work we’re doing protecting our coast tenfold,” he said. “Environmental protection budgets are shrinking nowadays, but disaster recovery and hazard mitigation budgets are growing.”
The symposium featured speakers and panel discussions comprised of innovative insurance industry professionals and government representatives such as California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, who delivered the opening keynote and also spoke on the panel “Mitigating Risk with Nature and Insurance” in which he participated Santa Cruz Mayor Fred Keely, Stephen Hill of the US Army Corps of Engineers and David Maurstad of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“I started learning about a project that was coming up in Mexico where insurance agencies were coordinating with nonprofits and the government to save the coral reef,” Lara said. “That’s when we came up with the concept of climate insurance to mitigate and close the protection gaps in some of our most vulnerable communities.”
Deborah Halberstadt of the California Department of Insurance led a panel called “Unlocking Nature and Insurance to Build Coastal Resilience.” The panel included Lindsay Judd, environmental underwriter at insurance company AXA XL, Emily Corwin, director of nature-based engineering solutions at Conservation International and Nuin-Tara Key from the WTW Climate and Resilience Hub.
The panel focused on the challenges of quantifying the return on investment for nature-based solutions to climate change and the role of insurance in this process, among other topics.
“Insurance can be used as an incentive and driver to change behavior and the kinds of investments in sustainability that we need,” Key said. “For example, the opportunity to continue investing in eco-forestry and better forest management.”
One of the main aims of the symposium was to bring seemingly diverse professionals together in a room to talk about climate change in order to discover new ways of working together.
“Partners work hard to communicate, which leads to collaboration because you have a common set of goals,” Hill said. “This collaboration then leads to the most important, broader engagement.”