Climate change threats ignored as commercial focus shifts

FALLING concern about global warming has prompted a drop in the proportion of companies assessing their vulnerability to climate change, while government policies to manage the risks remain fragmented and unco-ordinated, a study released by the Climate Institute has found.

FALLING concern about global warming has prompted a drop in the proportion of companies assessing their vulnerability to climate change, while government policies to manage the risks remain fragmented and unco-ordinated, a study released by the Climate Institute has found.

The report found a widespread belief that because taking steps to limit the risks to long-lived assets such as the energy industry and railways is "expensive, extensive, time consuming and difficult", "no action is often seen as the easiest path".

A separate report out last week by Baker & McKenzie and the Asset Owners Disclosure Project argued trustees in charge of Australia's $1.4 trillion in superannuation who failed to consider climate change risk may be in breach of fiduciary duties.

"A rapidly changing climate drives not just warmer but wilder weather," the Climate Institute report said. "For our infrastructure ... this means that the past is no longer a good guide to the future."

Munich Re, the world's biggest re-insurer, said that Australia's weather-related losses have risen more than fourfold in the 1980-2011 period, a pace only exceeded among the continents by North America.

Australia makes up less than 2 per cent of the global reinsurance market but, over the past five years, it has accounted for more than 6 per cent of global losses, the risk report said.

Two surveys by the CSIRO, of more than 400 public and private sector organisations, found the proportion taking into account risks had fallen from almost 60 per cent in 2008 to less than 47 per cent two years later. Just over a third had taken steps or planned to, in response to the assessments, the report found.

The unco-ordinated response of governments is perhaps best illustrated by the varying state-based land-use planning policies related to expected sea-level rises and storm surges along the nation's coastline.

In its Superannuation Trustees and Climate Change Report, Baker & McKenzie and AODP found "a general reluctance by asset managers and fund managers to disclose the climate-associated risks of their investment portfolios".

The report argued that super trustees could face future litigation if they fail to take steps to protect the values of their long-lived assets.

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