"There is no coincidence that this meeting is being held at the same time as international negotiators gather in Kyoto to discuss targets and timetables to respond to climate change," said Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, UNEP's Executive Director. "The insurance industry has become a powerful and credible lobby for action on the issue. They are an important counterweight to those who are working to slow progress," she said.
The threat of major weather-related disasters, like those due to El Nino, are the kinds of events that insurers fear will become more frequent if society continues to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the current rate.
For the insurance industry, environmental risk is business risk. The sector accounts for annual revenues of over $US2 trillion. Today, natural disasters represent 85 per cent of insured catastrophe losses globally, or $US12.4 billion in 1995, and these losses are on the rise.
Aside from discussions related to climate change, the meeting will explore specific issues including environmental management systems and reporting, asset management, and environmental liability.
Regarding the future of the green agenda, Ms. Dowdeswell remarked, "Many on the environmental side continue to say that business remains an obstacle to progress. Instead of confrontation, we need to build partnerships, like the one UNEP has with the Insurance Sector, and find solutions together."
The Conference comes as many of the world's leading insurance companies are recognizing that their efforts to protect human life and property and prevent catastrophic events can play a vital role in safeguarding the environment for future generations.
"A better understanding of environmental risks is of key importance to insurance companies if we are to respond to them in a prudent manner," concludes the meeting's Chairman, Mr. Yojiro Yamashita, Senior Managing Director of Sumitomo Marine and Fire Insurance.
UNEP's alliance with the Insurance Industry was launched two years ago when the first insurance companies signed on to the "UNEP Statement of Environmental Commitment by the Insurance Industry". Today, more than 70 insurance companies from 25 countries have signed the statement and have committed themselves to incorporating environmental considerations into their operations. The Tokyo Conference is a milestone for promoting the initiative in Japan and in other parts of Asia.
This is the second such meeting to be sponsored by UNEP and the Insurance Industry Initiative for the Environment. The Initiative is guided by the UNEP Insurance Steering Committee which includes: General Accident plc. (UK), Gerling-Konzern Globale (Germany), N.P.I. (UK), Sumitomo Marine & Fire Insurance Co. Ltd. (Japan), Swiss Reinsurance Company (Switzerland), and Storebrand (Norway).
Note to journalists:
A press conference will be held at the JA Building (1-8-3 Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku) in Tokyo on Monday, 2 December, at 12:15 p.m.
For more information contact:
Mr. Michael Williams,
UNEP Media Officer, in Japan,
tel: +81-20- 229-0209,
Mr. Bernd Schanzenbacher,
UNEP Programme Officer,
tel: +41-22-979-9302, fax: +41-22-7969240,
or Mr. Satoshi Toyama,
Sumitomo Marine and Fire,
tel: +81-3- 3297-6796, fax: +81-3-3297-6904,
Mr. Robert Bisset,
UNEP Media and Communications Officer
Tel: +254-2-623084, Fax: +254-2-623692,
UNEP News Release 1997/69