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Global warming effects on Singapore

If you still think climate change is a far-fetched idea in Singapore, think again.

A leading global reinsurer not only believes the region has been feeling the full effects of global warming in the past century, but also feels the rate of change is faster than in many other regions.

The proof: The number of natural disasters seen in South-east Asia, from floods to earthquakes, rose sharply from an annual average of 100 in the 1980s to 300 since the turn of the millennium.

A study released on Jan 4 by re-insurance giant Munich Re, a leading player in the market regionally, made this dire assessment.

Munich Re’s head of corporate climate centre Ernst Rauch said warming temperatures were the clearest sign of climate change’s toll. He was speaking to The Sunday Times at the insurer’s office in the Central Business District.

He said large land masses surrounding the region, such as India and China, contributed to temperatures rising at a faster rate.

‘In general, the northern hemisphere warmed up faster than the southern, due to the different means of adjusting to higher temperatures between oceans and land masses, with oceans (which are larger below the Equator) taking longer to warm up.’

All this adds up to devastating losses, both economically and in terms of human life.

Munich Re’s study puts the financial losses from floods, storms and earthquakes in Asia at around US$1.1 billion (S$1.4 billion), second only to the North and South American continents.

More significantly, some 1.14 million lives were lost in Asia last year alone, higher than elsewhere.

A major problem in Asia is a lack of disaster preparedness. For example, governments and businesses may lack insurance protection.

‘Despite insurance playing a major role in any country’s adaptation measures, many Asian countries are not well insured although they are the most vulnerable,’ said Mr Tan Yong Soon, permanent secretary (National Climate Change) in a recent speech here.

He added that most countries in the region still tended to react to catastrophes after they had occurred, which usually meant a scramble for emergency and relief appeals.

Here in Singapore, an island state traditionally isolated from the more devastating disasters such as earthquakes, opinions may also be changing when it comes to getting insurance coverage. ‘The floods in Singapore (last year), though small in the overall regional context, were an eye-opener as the perception traditionally here was that we are somehow immune to natural catastrophes,’ said Mr Francis Savari, Munich Re’s head of client port-folio management for the region.

‘The floods have given the insurance industry an opportunity to discuss natural catastrophe exposures. This has not translated into an overnight explosion in business deals, but at least it has raised awareness,’ he said.

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