If the Earth's climate continues to see more weather and temperature volatility, new types of risk will rise to the forefront of corporate and individual concern. Investors should begin making themselves aware of some of the major threats to future economic growth and some of the industries that could be most affected. This article will look at how the nature of insurance and risk prevention may change as various climate-based risks continue to be assessed globally by governments, corporations and individuals. (For an introduction to risk, check out Risk And Diversification: Different Types Of Risk and Using Logic To Examine Risk.)

TUTORIAL: Economics Basics

What Can We Expect?
There is still discussion over exactly what will happen if the Earth continues to heat up, or if the Earth is truly heating up at all, but this is not an article aimed at the ins and outs of that debate. Instead we will look at some of the most commonly cited effects of global warming and what they could mean to investors in the future if they come to pass.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there are five effects that we can reasonably expect to see as a result of continued global warming. They are:

  1. Warmer weather (more hot days, and heat waves of longer intensity)
  2. Drought (prolonged periods of low precipitation)
  3. Rise in sea levels
  4. More "severe weather" incidents (hurricanes, flooding/fires, winter storms)
  5. Health issues (heat-based illness and disease)

Source: Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, April 2007.

Some of these events may happen over long periods of time, while others could strike suddenly. Any of them will cause economic loss on a wide scale should they come to pass. Next let's examine five risks that - while not absent from the corporate horizon today - may take on new twists as they become increasingly costly to protect against in a future with unpredictable climate shifts.

Five Emerging Risks to Watch
In addition to general concerns such as higher energy costs and property loss from bad weather incidents, companies could also face increased risks that a major supplier won't be able to provide base goods and services, or that a major shortage in one or more raw materials leads to a hyperinflation scenario where costs skyrocket and corporate profits evaporate. Companies can often hedge against major price changes or other business risks by trading in derivatives, but even their pricing is determined by simple volatility assumptions that could be proved terribly inaccurate in one fell climate swoop. Let's look at some of the emerging risks in greater detail:

  • Agricultural Risk
    This risk could be the result of many scenarios described above; most crops have a specific list of needs and climate factors that must be met to grow. And because food is an absolute necessity, any shortages will lead to severe price increases and eat away at the discretionary income for ordinary consumers. Globalization may become a strong ally here; as an economy develops more trading partners, it can partly diversify against this risk. For example, if a nation in the far-Northern Hemisphere were exposed to increasingly warmer temperatures, it might partially become a new major exporter of agricultural goods to nations that previously could sustain their own consumption.

    In extreme cases, agricultural risks like widespread flooding could even lead to population migration, which would put simultaneous strains on several different economies. (To learn more, check out The Globalization Debate and What Is International Trade?)

  • Energy Risk
    If carbon taxes, market-based carbon trading or the like is implemented, energy costs could rise dramatically. It may become relatively cheaper to create or purchase alternative energy for both businesses and individuals. However, this will come at loss of short-term profitability or disposable income. (For information about carbon credits and trading, read Carbon Trading: Action Or Distraction? and Can Business Evolve In A Green World?)

    The fact that worldwide crude oil demand is steadily increasing paves the way for higher prices for our current sources of energy as well. Because energy is a major cost component for almost every industry, the list of those affected will be large. Opportunities will exist, however, for energy companies that can produce low-cost power or serve areas where higher temperatures lead to more demand for cooling. (To learn what less oil means to investors, check out Peak Oil: What To Do When The Wells Run Dry.)

  • Property Risk
    This will affect various industries in different ways, but all will be affected if higher property/casualty insurance becomes widespread. Insurance costs are already on the rise in certain geographic areas seen as high risk, and these trends will continue. Property-based industries like travel, REITs, hospitals and retail will face markedly higher risks. In extreme cases insurers may withdraw coverage altogether for certain areas. This could force some businesses to shut down completely. Private and government residences also face increased insurance costs, which could lead to lower investment-based real estate activity in some densely-populated areas of the globe. (To protect your own property, check out Insurance Tips For Homeowners.)
  • Litigation Risk
    If regulations on carbon-based emissions become more stringent, we will see more litigation against major offenders to the environment. Obvious targets include the major carbon-emitting industries, like energy, forestry, transportation and agriculture. Litigation concerns will linger over companies regardless of the outcome of specific cases, and could cramp asset and stock market valuations that are based on a long-term estimate of cash flows.
  • Risk to Climate-Based Industry
    Tourism revenue is typically skewed toward coastal areas and temperate climates. Many of these areas are at the highest risk to be affected by major weather incidents and broad global warming. Future projections for travel could be adjusted downward well in advance of actual events, which could affect a wide swath of companies who make money on tourism, such as hotel operators, airlines, cruise lines, restaurants and entertainment providers. (To learn more, check out Taking Global Macro Trends To The Bank.)

Looking Forward: What Needs to Be Done
Highlighting these risks isn't meant to scare you away from investing in companies that face them. Rather, the goal is to make you aware of what may happen, so that you can identify those companies that show leadership in preparing for these scenarios, whether it is by measuring carbon emissions, sourcing alternative energy or funding other green projects. Many companies will be able to succeed (and even thrive) by finding innovative solutions to mitigate these risks.

It is the insurers who will pave much of this road - they will set the pricing for the ability to ensure against the risks mentioned here, or they may choose not to at all. The broad investment community will also be casting millions of votes regularly in the form of industry and company stock valuations, access to the credit markets, and mutual fund flows. Companies with poor operating histories toward the environment may get depressed earnings multiples in the market, as the perceived ability to generate earnings in the future will be questioned. (For more reading on the economic benefits of going green, check out For Companies, Green Is The New Black.)

Parting Thoughts
By fostering initiatives they might otherwise have shunned, companies can create their own insurance policies by promoting public goodwill and creating new potential sources of revenue to make up for losses in other business areas. Citizens - and the governments that represent them - can help spur innovation by pledging themselves to combat climate change and support initiatives that do so.

Related Articles
  1. Investing

    3 Healthy Financial Habits for 2016

    ”Winning” investors don't just set it and forget it. They consistently take steps to adapt their investment plan in the face of changing markets.
  2. Investing

    How to Ballast a Portfolio with Bonds

    If January and early February performance is any guide, there’s a new normal in financial markets today: Heightened volatility.
  3. Economics

    The Truth about Productivity

    Why has labor market productivity slowed sharply around the world in recent years? One of the greatest economic mysteries out there.
  4. Investing News

    The 10 Fastest Growing Green Startups in 2016

    These social entrepreneurs adopt triple bottom lines that champion urgent environmental problems while generating returns for shareholders.
  5. Budgeting

    5 Alternatives to Traditional Health Insurance

    Discover five of the most popular alternatives to traditional health insurance plans, alternatives that are increasingly popular as health insurance costs rise.
  6. Insurance

    Beware the Sneaky Math of Universal Life Insurance

    Universal life insurance's cash value can be a cash cow – if there's any left. Read on to see if it'll work as an income source after you've retired.
  7. Term

    How Market Segments Work

    A market segment is a group of people who share similar qualities.
  8. Active Trading

    Market Efficiency Basics

    Market efficiency theory states that a stock’s price will fully reflect all available and relevant information at any given time.
  9. Fundamental Analysis

    5 Basic Financial Ratios And What They Reveal

    Understanding financial ratios can help investors pick strong stocks and build wealth. Here are five to know.
  10. Investing

    How To Make Sure Your Healthcare Costs Do Not Ruin Your Retirement

    The best proactive plan of action for a stable retirement is to understand medical costs, plan ahead, invest properly, and consider supplemental insurance.
RELATED FAQS
  1. What is finance?

    "Finance" is a broad term that describes two related activities: the study of how money is managed and the actual process ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What is the difference between positive and normative economics?

    Positive economics is objective and fact based, while normative economics is subjective and value based. Positive economic ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Does dental insurance cover implants?

    Dental implants have become a widely used procedure in dentistry. Despite their popularity, however, they tend to not be ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Does dental insurance cover dentures?

    Most full dental insurance policies include some restorative coverage, usually meaning that up to 50% of the cost of dentures ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Can CareCredit be used for family members?

    CareCredit has become a widely used option when it comes to paying for medical procedures, primarily procedures not typically ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Can a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) be used for dental?

    Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) can be used to pay for dental expenses including deductibles and co-payments with pretax ... Read Full Answer >>
Trading Center