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Press Release

WTW partners with the University of Geneva to quantify systemic global risks from massive volcanic eruptions

March 26, 2024


LONDON, UK, March 26, 2024 — WTW (NASDAQ: WTW), a global advisory, broking, and solutions company, announced that it has partnered with the University of Geneva to quantify the rare but catastrophic effects of very large volcanic eruptions on climate, food security, and society. This collaboration will allow WTW and its clients to anticipate how a future massive eruption would affect their operations and portfolios and make better decisions to manage their exposure over the long term.

More than two centuries have passed since our planet was shaken by a truly large volcanic eruption. When Indonesia's Mount Tambora erupted in April 1815, it ejected roughly 200 cubic kilometers of rock into the atmosphere and triggered a sudden global cooling that lasted more than a year. Known commonly as the "Year Without a Summer", 1816 was plagued by climatic oddities caused by the eruption. In western Europe and the eastern United States, mid-summer frost and unseasonably cold weather led to reduced agricultural yields, crop failures, and sharp increases in the price of staple foods. Snow fell as far south as Taiwan, both the Indian and Southeast Asian monsoon rains were disrupted, and across Asia crops were damaged or destroyed by frost and flood.

Despite their status as the largest non-human influence on global climate, volcanic eruptions have not received the attention they deserve from either the risk management sector or the climate impacts research community. Industry-standard disaster scenarios for (re)insurance typically foreground hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods, but none of those perils match the potential of volcanoes to disrupt climate and society at a global scale. WTW and the University of Geneva are working together to quantify the risks of major eruptions over the next few decades and anticipate their effects on weather-related extremes, including frost, floods, droughts.

Scott St. George, Head of Weather and Climate Research for the WTW Research Network, said, “It’s understandable people worry most about risks that are familiar to them. But volcanoes have been the leading cause of global climate disruptions for most of human history. Through this collaboration, WTW will gain unprecedented insight into the worldwide consequences should a Tambora-scale eruption occur in our future. The fact that many of those risks may not be insurable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t quantify them.”

The fact that many of those risks may not be insurable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t quantify them.”

Scott St. George | Head of Weather and Climate Research for the WTW Research Network

Markus Stoffel, Chair for Climate Change Impacts and Risks in the Anthropocene at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Geneva, added, “Having worked extensively on the impacts of past tropical volcanic eruptions, it is surprising how little attention we pay to this disaster risk. Natural proxies – such as tree rings or corals – and historical accounts provide ample evidence for the catastrophic consequences that past eruptions have had on food security and societal stability. The collaboration with WTW is to better apprehend the likely consequences of volcanic risks and on how to fully recognize these overlooked risks in the insurance sector”. 

About WTW

At WTW (NASDAQ: WTW), we provide data-driven, insight-led solutions for people, risk, and capital. Leveraging the global view and local expertise of our colleagues serving 140 countries and markets, we help organizations sharpen their strategy, enhance organizational resilience, motivate their workforce, and maximize performance.

Working shoulder to shoulder with our clients, we uncover opportunities for sustainable success—and provide a perspective that moves you.

About the University of Geneva

The University of Geneva (UNIGE) enjoys worldwide recognition and ranks amongst the top 50 best universities in the world. Founded in 1559 by Jean Calvin and Theodore de Beze, it welcomes nearly 18 000 students in its nine faculties and thirteen interdisciplinary centers and constantly strengthens its links with the International and Non-Governmental Organizations based in Geneva, one of the world’s capitals for multilateralism. A member of the League of European Research-intensive Universities and of the 4EU+ Alliance, the UNIGE fulfils three missions: education, research and knowledge sharing.

To avoid the negative impacts of climate impacts and risks, the C-CIA Chair provides robust and reliable, science-informed information for stakeholders and policy makers. It also develops crucial baseline data to advance understanding and awareness of climate impacts and risks and to investigate options for transforming risk management with stakeholder-led processes to support climate risk policy and decision-making.

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