Be more prepared and resilient to cope with climate change

IAG Executive Manager Natural Perils Mark Leplastrier shares his perspective on how we can build resilient communities as we face more frequent and severe weather events


By IAG Executive Manager Natural Perils Mark Leplastrier

Climate change is considered by many to be the greatest risk currently facing humanity.

In a warming climate, extreme weather events will become more frequent and intense for many regions of Australia. In our country, we are exposed to just about every possible hazard, from earthquakes, severe thunderstorms and tropical cyclones to bushfires and devastating floods.

In just the first half of 2021, nine natural disasters wreaked havoc on West Australian communities. These included the Wooroloo bushfire which destroyed 86 properties and 10,500 hectares and Cyclone Seroja which decimated Kalbarri and surrounding regions. Already this year, West Australians have experienced the hottest summer on record with multiple severe bushfires.

New research from the NRMA Insurance Wild Weather Tracker report shows the huge impact of severe weather across the country, with a 53% increase on home claims over summer compared to the previous year, and that was prior to the devastating impacts of the recent east coast floods.

We cannot prevent extreme weather, but we can do more to prepare communities and make them more resilient.

As an insurer, we play a critical role when it comes to response and recovery in times of disaster, but tracking, preparedness and mitigation of severe weather impacts is just as important.

For the past two decades, we have invested heavily in climate change science so that we can get a better picture of how risk is changing for the community and our customers. It is our role to help our customers protect themselves from the risks they face – and climate change is fundamentally changing the nature of risk in Australia.

To protect vulnerable communities, we need everyone who brings expertise in understanding the impacts of severe weather events to be at the same table, sharing their data and insights. That means greater collaboration and coordination across all levels of government, as well as local community groups, insurers, banks, councils and builders.

An example of effective collaboration has been our work with the Townsville Cyclone Testing Station since the early 2000s, providing funding and access to claims data. The Station’s work has led to changes in building codes, and to the development of important cyclone resilience programs.

We know that greater investment in mitigation is critical in reducing the impacts of climate change and natural hazards and this is where the focus must be. Currently, 97% of government funding is focused on disaster recovery and only 3% on prevention.

That’s why we have called on the Federal Government to dedicate greater investment to mitigation initiatives - at least $200 million per year, matched by the state and territory governments - to help protect lives, property and critical infrastructure.

Not only does investment in mitigation protect people and communities, but it also helps to reduce the extensive financial and social costs of recovering from these disasters.

Combining mitigation investments with improved land use planning and strengthening building codes will better protect communities while having flow on benefits such as making insurance more affordable.

It’s also important for governments, insurers, councils, builders and other industries to work together to provide communities with better and more consistent messages about climate risk, so they can better prepare and build up resilience against it. The latest NRMA Insurance research shows that 39% of Australians are not ready to respond if severe weather hits their suburb or town. 

While highlighting the impact of wild weather across the country year-round, we want to encourage and help communities to take more steps, more often to prepare their homes, businesses, and families as best they can.

I often quote the late Professor Steven Schneider. He was a climate scientist who said about climate change that we don’t want to go from denial to despair without stopping halfway to think about the solutions.

As humans, we have enormous capacity to adapt, and we must. The severity and frequency of the extreme weather we have seen devastate communities over the past few years must be a turning point that motivates us all to work together to build more resilient communities.

This article first appeared in the West Australian

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