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How the US is Making Progress on Climate Change

Originally published on InsuranceERM | October 28, 2020

Bill Wilkins, CRO of US specialty re/insurer Safety National, which is part of the Tokio Marine Group, explains why climate risk cannot be solved by the US alone.

In an InsuranceERM editorial comment titled How US insurers can make America green again, published earlier this month, Ronan McCaughey expressed rather passionately the need for the US insurance industry to be leaders on the subject of climate change.

It is that passion and call for US leadership, however, which is turning the ordinary person away from the subject. The article does not recognize the progress made within our industry.

Climate change is real. You can see it, literally. Whether it is in Beijing, the Silicon Valley or the streets of Delhi. The path to this issue has taken over 100 years to create. In that time, the world has become intricately dependent in many forms, and as such, the issue of climate change will not be fixed quickly.

Within the United States alone, there are over 10m jobs directly connected to oil and gas production. Yet, energy consumption (transportation, manufacturing or electricity) accounts for 70% of greenhouse gas generation. Google a list of products that use petroleum and many everyday items would disappear from existence without it.

Globally, entire countries’ economies face decimation without an orderly climate risk transition. As seen with the current pandemic, if the solution is too severe, people stop accepting it.

Global Issue

Fixing the issues with greenhouse gas emissions is not a United States issue; it is a global issue and one not solved solely through the US. It is a complex one given demographic and economic situations around the world. Many of those calling for the expedited change do not have an appreciation for unintended consequences or history. While it may not seem like it, the climate risk challenge will take time; and time coupled with reasonable intentions.

Elected officials do not win the hearts and minds of millions by outsourcing jobs without replacing them. New administrations quickly reverse the political solutions of their predecessors.

For many in the United States, the ozone scare of the 1970’s has not transpired the way the initial predictions had anticipated; therefore, there is the argument why will the climate change predictions be any different?

So, what do we do? What we can; understanding this is a generational solution, not an immediate one.

The two basic questions that need answering for climate change are:

  • How to incentivize acceptance of solutions that affect everyday life?
  • How will the solutions be equitable amongst all parties?

Leading companies like Tokio Marine (my parent organization) and the Safety National Casualty Corporation (my employer), have executives and staff who wish to make a difference. Moreover, they are trying to answer these questions in a thoughtful, optimal way.

Tokio Marine’s published climate change strategy is one of education, respectful transition, recognition of the uniqueness of each global circumstance and internal action.

Safety National has led by example instituting employee driven committees on sustainability and philanthropy to get acceptance from all levels within the organization. This translates to conversations with our clients, who themselves are addressing these issues.

Global organizations will influence this transition, by working with clients, starting conversations and setting realistic goals. No one should expect Chevron or Saudi Arabia to invest 25% of its monies in renewable energy in the immediate future; that is just not reasonable. Helping derive reasonable and measurable goals that also allow for transition without decimation is key.


In the United States, the transition has started. Many utilities providers like Ameren USA or Florida Power & Light are instituting programs to reduce the need for fossil fuels, while trying to sustain the energy needs of today. This will build as they succeed. More builders today are adding solar solutions to construction. As these succeed, more will adopt the practice.

The conversation has more than started. It will not go away if reasonable people continue to do what they can. Unreasonable expectations, not just of time, but also of who should endure most of the change are what will cause the delay.

Organizations such as Tokio Marine, AIG, Swiss Re, Zurich, Travelers and many others are addressing climate change now because they recognize the impacts for today and the future.

They will continue to provide leadership. Moreover, as they succeed, others will follow. It will not however be at a pace that sacrifices one group’s needs over another. Those types of solutions will only create further issues down the road.