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Global warming costs to spiral out of control, warns Swiss

By Reuters Mar. 4, 2004 Geneva - Swiss Re, the world's second-biggest reinsurer, yesterday warned that the costs of global warming threatened to spiral out of control, forcing the human race into a catastrophe of its own making.

In a report revealing how climate change is rising on the corporate agenda, Swiss Re said the economic costs of global warming threatened to double to $150 billion a year in 10 years, hitting insurers with $30 billion to $40 billion in claims, or one World Trade Center attack each year.

"There is a danger that human intervention will accelerate and intensify natural climate changes to such a point that it will become impossible to adapt our socioeconomic systems in time," Swiss Re said in the report.

"The human race can lead itself into this climatic catastrophe - or it can avert it."

The report comes as a growing number of policy experts warn that the environment is emerging as the biggest security threat of the 21st century, eclipsing terrorism.

Scientists expect global warming to trigger increasingly frequent and violent storms, heatwaves, flooding, tornadoes and cyclones while other areas slip into cold or drought.

"Sea levels will continue to rise, glaciers to retreat and snow cover to decline."

Swiss Re climate expert Pamela Heck said losses to insurers from environmental events had risen exponentially over the past 30 years, and were expected to rise even more rapidly still.

"Scientists tell us that extreme events are going to increase in intensity and frequency," Heck said. "Climate change is very much in the mind of the insurance industry."

Over the past century the average global temperature had increased by 0.6iC, the biggest rise for the northern hemisphere in the past 1 000 years, Swiss Re said.

In the short and medium term, simply knowing that the planet is warming will allow society to adapt.

In the long term, greenhouse gases thought to cause global warming would need to be reduced. The use of fossil fuels would have to be cut and new energy technologies would have to be developed.

Published on the web by the Business Report on March 4, 2004.

Business Report 2004. All rights reserved.


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