A new report from the insurer Swiss Re seeks to position property insurance, not surprisingly, as a strategic adaptation hedge against increased damages resulting from climate change.

With more than half the world’s six-billion-plus people living “in regions highly exposed to natural disasters,” and with projected temperature increases by 2100 of between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees C, climate change “could further heighten this vulnerability,” says the Swiss Re report, “Weathering Climate Change: Insurance Solutions for More Resilient Communities.” It points to adaptation as “rapidly becoming a priority requiring urgent action at both national and local levels,” but cautions that “since resources for climate adaptation are finite, trade-offs are inevitable” and decisionmaking in the face of uncertainties will be essential in planning for a wide variety of future impacts.

The Swiss Re report projects that the changing climate and other factors are “likely to significantly increase losses over the next 20 years, as warmer temperatures lead to more severe and frequent weather disasters, rising sea levels, and shifts in rainfall patterns and climate zones.”

With “substantial economic values at risk,” the situation “makes a strong case for preventive action.”

Some effects of climate change “are being felt already and are likely to intensify, putting more people and assets at risk,” the study reports, noting that the 2.9 percent “insurance penetration rates” in developing countries lag behind the 8.6 percent rates in industrialized countries. “Since it is difficult to predict the exact impact of climate change on local economies, decisionmakers will have to make policy and investment choices about climate adaptation under a large degree of uncertainty,” it says, with the challenges greatest in emerging markets of the developing world. The insurer’s report points to a potential doubling of losses from hurricane winds, storm surge, and floods over the next two decades — from an average annual loss of $17 billion in 2008 to $33 billion in 2030.

The 16-page report is available as a PDF here.