Swiss Re: access to open spaces will save economy billions

Swiss Re has said it is vital the world gets back to nature as the influx of the world’s population into every larger urban centres gathers pace.

The underwriter has issued a new study into the benefits of open spaces in the run up to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-15).

The Swiss Re Institute paper warned the world need to ensure that there is access to open spaces and members of the reinsurers’ leadership team said the (re)insurance industry needed to better ensure the benefits of nature on global health.

The report ‘Biodiversity and the Benefits for Human Health’ said the correlation between access to open spaces and health is significant: Assuming that spending time in green spaces or woodlands were to reduce the impact of mental health issues by just 1% by 2030, global annual economic savings would be up to $60 billion.

For cardiovascular diseases in turn, the same scenario would result in a global cost saving of $10 billion annually.

Oliver Schelske, Swiss Re Institute Natural Assets & ESG Research Lead explained: “By 2050, it is anticipated that more than two thirds of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. Already today, many people have limited access to green spaces and are experiencing the harmful effects of air and noise pollution in urban and suburban areas. As this report shows, increasing biodiversity by creating more parks and planting more trees clearly benefits everyone’s health. For the re/insurance industry, it will become important to standardise how we measure the benefits of time spent in nature to better explain the positive effects on health and thereby develop related insurance solutions.”

The report focused on mental health and cardiovascular diseases as well as the impact of exposure to air pollution, heat and noise. It used healthcare cost data to estimate potential savings that could be achieved from incorporating more nature related elements into urban and suburban settings and examines how these changes could associate with health and property insurance.

“Air pollution is a global health concern; and urban areas with more trees have better air quality,” it added. “A US study suggested tree coverage in the US removed 17.4 million tonnes of pollutants in 2010, equating to health savings of $6.8 billion.  Trees also cool down cities in summer and provide Trees also cool down cities in summer and provide space for relaxation. They contribute to preventing heat-induced mortality, respiratory problems and mental disorders, and can be re/insured against extreme weather.”

The research warned Heat-related mortality is increasing across the world due to climate change and more frequent heat waves. Well-vegetated cities cope better with heat. One study suggested air temperatures during heat waves in London could be up to 4°C cooler within a 400m range of parks.

Christoph Nabholz, Chief Research Officer at Swiss Re Institute added: “The benefits of improved human health due to time spent in nature for society and the global economy are becoming indisputable. Only recently, we saw how the COVID-19 lockdowns negatively impacted on people’s well-being. We should therefore all consider our green environments to be as valuable as private or publicly owned assets. The re/insurance industry can play a role in enabling and protecting green environments, such as insuring urban forests or green roofs.”

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