How Can Insurance Impact the Climate?and what does it have to do with a ship?
When you think of the global challenges we are facing and the myriad of inspiring technologies that are being invested in, developed and deployed where in your thoughts is insurance?
For some of you insurance will be high up that list, but I hazard to guess that for many others it won't have even been a consideration.
In this article I seek to change your opinion, and explain how our moment in climate history is like Magellan and the early pioneers.
Anything Can Be Insured
Insuring homes and cars against damage or theft is very well understood. Insuring businesses for financial or data loss, or cyber attacks is also well established. Musicians can insure their hands and famous actresses can even insure their body parts.
There is even one company, established in 1987, that claims to offer alien abduction, blackhole and asteroid protection insurance.
While UFO abduction insurance might seem a bit out of this world, it illustrates that companies are willing to underwrite policies that cover a huge spectrum of risks, activities and assets.
The insurance industry, however, plays a much more complex role than just providing protection from financial loss. It creates jobs, shields consumers, businesses and nations in times of need and stimulates economic growth.
On the topic of growth, a study of across 56 countries, covering the period 1994-2005 determined that insurance was actually an economic driver, positively influencing GDP growth.
Through acting as a safety net insurance enables investment money to be allocated to higher-risk endeavours, without compromising the security or ongoing viability of the backing entity.
So why wouldn't something as important as addressing the climate emergency also benefit from the support of the insurance industry?
Insurance in the era of Climate Catastrophes
The increasing frequency and severity of climate catastrophes coupled with other macro-economic and political events (wars, inflation) is leading to a period of significant difficulty for the insurance, and reinsurance sectors.
With this in mind, the insurance industry should be thinking not just about how to mitigate their immediate exposure to these increasing risks, but also how to develop the business to provide support for those companies trying to tackle the bigger problem of climate change at large.
And, indeed it is!
Let's speak to Kita, a startup that is laser focused on helping address climate change through novel insurance products aimed to help carbon removal projects succeed.
KitaCarbon insurance for the climate crisis
Kita is a company using technology and data to help tackle the climate emergency.
Kita's specific focus is on helping carbon removal projects succeed and scale at pace.
The IPCC's 6th report, referred to as 'code red for humanity' emphasised that we have passed the point of being able to avoid climate breakdown through just carbon reductions or avoidance, and that removal of existing carbon from the atmosphere is critical.
If we stopped emitting all carbon today, instantly, it would still take 100-150 years for the carbon already in the atmosphere to dissipate. Due to this, and the slow progress we are collectively making at reducing emissions, proactive carbon removal is essential.
Path to Scaling the Nascent Carbon Removal Market
I had the opportunity to speak with Natalia Dorfman, CEO and Co-Founder of Kita, about her journey to founding the company and why Kita's work is both important and impactful.
Natalia graduated with a Major in Environmental Science from Duke University in 2005. Realising that environmental science wasn't the career for her, Natalia found herself learning the value of insuring "amorphous things" through her work at law firms in New York and Europe.
These roles introduced her to the world of specialised insurance, where almost anything can be insured, which soon began to overlap into climate regulation and her environmental science past.
Kita, Born From Frustration
Reflecting on her time in big law firms, Natalia said "We spoke with many large corporations around climate change – both risks and opportunities."
"We also spoke with many academics, regulators, consultants, etc. I realised the pace of change we need as a society, and I also realised the challenge in developing solutions that can be adopted quickly and at scale."
"I had a moment where I thought – ‘I can either stick my head in the sand and pretend climate change isn’t happening, or I can try to do something about it. So I decided I might as well try and do something about it."
Having an idea that insurance and climate could be something powerful, Natalia joined the Carbon13 venture builder. It was there she met her co-founders, Paul Young, and Tom Merriman and Kita was born.
What is Kita?and why is it important?
Kita provides insurance products that cover against underperformance of carbon removal projects.
Carbon removal is an essential tool for humanity to reach its goals of avoiding the worst case climate catastrophes. These projects actively remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere.
Carbon Removal Types
There are a variety of carbon removal techniques that span natural, technological and hybrid systems. Some of these are much more mature, such those from nature, and others are still very early on in their growth. One thing all of them have in common is risk.
The nature approaches are prone to reversal risks, such as human deforestation, fires, droughts and floods. The more technological approaches suffer from being less mature, operating unproven technologies, in unproven markets, while trying to rapidly scale.
Investing in the unproven
The carbon removal market is advancing at pace, yet to achieve the scale we all need it to reach, the projects need to sell more of their product, faster.
The challenge is that the products they sell have long delivery times and are prone to risk, for example:
- Timescales: Carbon removal can take years or decades to fulfil.
- Risks: Companies might fail, the project might not meet their promised removal targets.
Carbon Removal and 15th Century Exploration
Carbon removal is at a point in history that is similar to early global exploration.
Launching a ship from Lisbon into uncharted waters across the ocean was incredibly risky. Many expeditions never returned, those that did failed to deliver on their promises and even introduced other unexpected risks (e.g. diseases) to the home nation.
It turns out that one of the major catalysts to global exploration was insurance.
Expedition investors were provided various forms of promises or guarantees, often backed by states and nations, vastly opening up funding opportunities from more risk-averse investors, thereby reducing the individual investors' risk and propelling exploration into history.
Just like global exploration, the risks of carbon removal failure are potentially high and the time to returns long.
How Is Insurance Going to Change Carbon Removal?
The carbon removal industry is in the middle of a catch-22.
Growing carbon removal ventures need capital to be able to scale, yet most organisations are unwilling to commit to significant purchases due to the risks mentioned above.
This is where insurance comes in to play. Insurance can act as the safety net, reducing exposure and risk for organisations, while at the same time providing much needed capital for the projects to achieve scale.
What we kept hearing was around shortage of supply. The barriers to entry are huge, both for developers and buyers. Whether you're selling or buying, because of the shortage of supply, money needs to be put down upfront to finance the projects.
Kita's mission is to balance the supply and demand, by insuring the buyer's investment against loss that comes from under-delivery. Thereby, opening more capital to grow more projects and deliver more removals.
Buyers care less about cash, more about carbon
An intriguing outcome of de-risking carbon removal delivery, is that buyers often care less both recovering their cash, and more about ensuring they reach their carbon targets.
With this in mind, Kita's products are designed to provide the option for buyers to recover their money if the projects under-deliver, or to reinvest into alternative projects.
The reinvestment angle is particularly exciting, because as the market and projects mature the cost per tonne of removed carbon is likely to decrease, meaning today's investment might have stronger buying power in five years time.
The key to all of this is in being able to monitor that carbon is actually being removed.
So how do Kita do that?
Tracking Carbon Removal Projects
Kita is a unique blend of insurance and climate technologies, using data to understand risks and trends, but also help provide project developers early warning to avoid under-delivery, or offer buyers options to replace their investments to ensure their removal pledges are achieved.
"Our aim is to identify the trends that show the key risk points where projects go wrong, and be able to notify our clients in advance, helping them evade those risks." commented Natalia, "The ultimate goal is to create better carbon removal companies that actually capture more carbon and do so successfully, at scale."
Kita's products depend heavily both on existing data as well as proprietary data. Leveraging the team's strength in remote monitoring technologies and climate science, they plan to develop and deploy additional terrestrial and satellite-born monitoring technologies to further enhance their abilities.
It is the scale point that is so important if carbon removal is ever going to reach its potential, and something that was echoed in a comment from one of their investors, Climate.VC.
Our goal is to achieve one gigatonne CO2 impact before 2050. To achieve this we can't go slow!
That's just one of the reasons we love what Natalia, Paul and the team at Kita are doing. By reducing carbon removal purchasing friction, and increasing capital flow into the projects they stand to accelerate the entire market by 10x, if not more.
Speaking further with Peet, he mentioned how, given the long atmospheric lifetime of carbon, every tonne removed today is worth a multiple removed tomorrow.
Meaning, humanity's chance of avoiding the worst-case climate scenarios drastically increases the sooner we begin to remove large quantities of carbon from our atmosphere. And this is where Kita is poised to play a pivotal role, by helping these projects get the funding they need to rapidly grow their impact.
He believes that Kita's proposition will help accelerate much needed investment into carbon projects, reducing risk, increasing supplier diversity and ultimately giving humanity a significantly better chance of maintaining a viable climate.
I have to admit that before speaking with Kita I had not considered the role of insurance in helping reducing atmospheric carbon. In fact, I hadn't even spent much time thinking about how insurance is more than just money to help in times of need, let alone how it acts as fundamental enabler of our modern day societies.
Now, though, I see how insurance helps markets, products and technologies mature.
Following the Technology Adoption Lifecycle, new markets, technologies and ideas gain initial traction from specialist investors (such as venture capital) that conduct detailed due diligence, have intimate insights into the markets and are used to win/loose risk and rewards.
Successfully moving from the innovator stage to early adopter requires a shift in risk profile, and this is where insurance can play a pivotal role.
The carbon removal market is currently in this phase, and as such I can clearly see how the carbon insurance products Kita is bringing to market could really spur growth.
Peet's prediction that insurance could facilitate a ten-fold acceleration in the carbon removal market is exciting, and I see how that could benefit not just Climate.VC's work, but that of many other investors, our societies and the environment.
With that, I am excited to see how this goes. Good luck Kita!
Regular readers of my work know that I like to incorporate micro-impacts into my work.
Following an article on carbon removals it seems appropriate to offer readers the opportunity to remove carbon directly from this webpage.
As such, please choose from one of the four carbon removal projects below and I will sponsor a small amount of carbon removal on your behalf, which should result in between 40-280g of sequestered carbon (depending on the timing of the specific project).
This content is produced in association withClimate.VC
Investing for a gigatonne impact in climate emissions. The climate crisis is one of the greatest threats mankind has ever faced, but also one of the greatest opportunities to reshape our civilisation. Climate.VC fund early stage startups that will drive material decarbonisation of the economy and day-to-day life.
Find out more about Climate.VC on their website: https://climate.vc