Scientists are telling us that the ocean is changing faster than at any time in the last 65 million years.
It has absorbed 93 per cent of the Earth’s extra heat since 1955, it’s lost 90 per cent of its large predatory fish population, and it’s being subjected to more than eight million tons of plastic every year.
For far too long we’ve taken advantage of the ocean’s bounty and its capacity to absorb our waste. The result is a whole new category of risk – ‘ocean risk’ – which poses a major threat to societies and economies around the world.
Ocean risk has implications for the safety of vulnerable coastal communities, for human health and livelihoods, for food security, global weather and for the climate. It’s a highly unpredictable addition to the risk landscape that demands far more research and attention, including by the insurance industry.
That’s why XL Catlin is proud to be hosting the first-ever Ocean Risk Summit, taking place in Bermuda. The Summit is bringing together leaders from the political, economic, environmental, technology, finance and risk management sectors. Their joint knowledge will help to deepen our understanding of ocean changes and to begin to build innovative, collaborative solutions.
Because one thing is certain: ocean risk is too big, diverse and complex for any one industry to tackle alone. We need a multi-sectoral approach.
The World Meteorological Organization calculates that 2017 was the most expensive year in history in terms of losses from weather and climate-related disasters, costing the global economy an estimated USD320 billion. This was largely due to a particularly severe Atlantic hurricane season, fueled by high ocean temperatures, which destroyed lives and property across the Caribbean and US.
Hurricanes are becoming more intense and storm surges more severe, but there are other, less visible but still dramatic, ocean risks that we mustn’t allow to remain under the radar. Rising ocean temperature and acidity is wreaking havoc on marine life in ways that we are only just beginning to understand. At the Summit we will be addressing many of these issues.
Entire populations of fish species are migrating poleward to stay in water that allows them to feed and breed. What happens when fishing communities can no longer reach the stocks they’ve relied on for generations? What will be the knock-on effects for food security and will we start seeing shifts in human migration?
Warmer seas are causing more frequent, devastating coral bleaching events. What will be the consequences for marine biodiversity, and the millions of people who rely on the nearly USD10 trillion of social, economic and cultural services provided by coral reefs each year?
Arctic sea ice is vanishing. In 2017, summer minimum ice coverage was 25 per cent below the 1981-2010 average. How is this impacting marine species, from whales and polar bears to the micro-plankton that are the foundation of the entire ocean food web? And what does this mean for future mining and even militarization of the Arctic?
These questions, and many others, will be debated during the Summit. The consequences of accelerated ocean change are expected to change our world in many ways, and most communities are woefully underprepared.
Our purpose is to bring together a wide range of experts to investigate how we can build resilience to threats, by stimulating debate and providing the best available data and analysis. We believe that the insurance industry, with our expertise in risk management and modelling, is ideally placed to play a key role in the search for practical, forward-looking solutions to the global challenge of ocean risk.
Creative insurance solutions are already being devised in response to specific ocean risks. Earlier this year, the first ever insurance scheme designed to protect a coral reef was launched in Mexico. The initiative, supported by the local government, tourist industry, The Nature Conservancy and the insurance industry, should serve as an inspiration for others facing potential loss of marine assets.
Our understanding of many of the drivers of ocean risk is still a work in progress. Much more scientific research and data are needed to reduce uncertainties and help us to better prepare for the future. But this is not an excuse to wait. Lives and livelihoods are at risk from ocean changes today and it is vital that this issue rises higher up political agendas.
Fortunately, there is momentum in this direction. The links between the ocean and climate change are increasingly highlighted at major global forums, from the Paris Climate Conference, to the World Bank and the G7. And, crucially, the ocean is entering the daily news cycle, with issues like plastic pollution and pirate fishing becoming part of the public and political consciousness. This is helping to drive both policy and investment.
XL Catlin and organising partners – including the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Ocean Unite – are preparing to tackle ocean risk on every front. We hope that beyond our incredible Ocean Risk Summit attendees, others around the world will follow the event online as we work together to address this global challenge.
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