Arizona State University College of Law
A growing number of investors, insurers, financial services providers, and nonprofits rely on information about localized physical climate risks, like floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. The outcomes of these risk projections have significant consequences in the economy, including allocating investment capital, impacting housing prices and demographic shifts, and prioritizing adaptation infrastructure projects. The climate risk information available to individual citizens and municipalities, however, is limited and expensive to access. Further, many providers of climate services use black box models that make overseeing the scientific rigor of their methodologies impossible— a concern given scientific critiques that many may be obfuscating the uncertainty in their projections. Municipalities that want to challenge insurance and bond rating determinations must rally significant resources for modeling and data, a scattershot policing method at best. And when companies have access to sophisticated modeling about future impacts— some of them potentially devastating for entire communities—the decision to share that information has been largely left up to the corporation.
This Article argues that actionable and transparent information about our climate-changed future is a public good that the private sector cannot be depended upon to provide equitably or reliably. Further, all private climate services rely on upstream climate data and models that were collected and produced by an enormous network of public institutions. There are important lessons to be learned from the recent success of special interests in pressing for the privatization of weather data and services—a trend that has knock-on effects for weather forecasts globally. This Article urges state and federal governments to invest in their own climate services capacity at a scale not currently contemplated. Risk assessments lacking a scientific basis can lead to maladaptation across the economy. While it is a potentially limited matter of consumer protection or tort liability when a consultancy over-promises its analytical capabilities, it is a much larger problem if regulators themselves misunderstand the limits of uncertainty when designing risk oversight.
Climate Services: The Business of Physical Risk
Arizona State Law Journal
Available at: https://scholarship.law.bu.edu/faculty_scholarship/3658