23 Jul 2022

Recent flooding sign of further losses to come, Insurance Council says

6:10 pm on 23 July 2022

Insurance claims related to extreme weather events have already cost upwards of $150 million this year alone, according to the Insurance Council.

Flooded street in Greenlane, Auckland, on Monday 21 March 2022.

Flooded street in Greenlane, Auckland, on Monday 21 March 2022. File photo. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

Weather related insurance claims are stacking up and are set to become more common as climate change bears down on New Zealand communities.

Just this week there has been widespread flooding in the South Island and water lapping at the front doors of homes in Wellington.

Counting the cost of all this is the Insurance Council, its chief executive Tim Grafton told Checkpoint there was no doubt climate had arrived with the cost of weather-related insured losses doubling in the last five year period.

"If we went back ten years then the last five years we've more than doubled what the previous five years was in terms of insured losses so no doubt climate change is firmly here and we're seeing increasing impacts and frequency of extreme weather events," he said.

Weather-related insured losses had already reached upwards of $150 million this year alone, he said

"Probably we're in the order of about $150 million so far this year in terms of insured losses and then the economic losses on top of that aren't insured, a whole heap more, and then of course you don't count the sort of social misery that comes with flooding and all these sorts of events," Grafton said.

Grafton said the focus for society now had to be on reducing, controlling and avoiding the risks posed by future extreme weather events.

Stopping developers building houses in "dumb places" such as flood plains would be necessary to avoid increasing these risks, he said.

No caption

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton Photo: Supplied

With the government set to release its Climate Adaptation Plan next month, Grafton said he hoped the report would be focused on identifying high risk areas and fleshing out adaptation plans that would reduce the risk of extreme weather events.

Over 95 percent of homes in New Zealand were currently insured and residents were lucky to have access to affordable and available home insurance, Grafton said.

However, insurance premiums could subject to increases if authorities did not act to adapt to a changing climate, he said.

"The good news is also that can stay in place for some time but if we sit on our hands and do nothing about reducing the risk then over time insurance will respond by increasing the premiums."

A king tide and storm surge causing flooding along Auckland's Tamaki Drive.

Coastal flooding. File photo. Photo: Stu Mackay / NIWA

With the threat of rising sea levels increasing year-on-year, Grafton said the impending event would not be insurable anywhere in the world - let alone New Zealand.

He said the Insurance Council was concerned that rising sea levels would exacerbate the impact of future flooding in low-lying areas.

This was cause to consider whether certain areas of the country needed to retreat inland, he said.

"What we've got to be doing is thinking you know are there areas of the country where we may eventually have to retreat from or are there other options that we can deploy between now and perhaps an eventual retreat that will reduce the risks, help the transfer of risk to insurance and then avoid all the cultural, environmental and social damage that these events do."

He said with such a serious issue any adaptation would need to take a hollistic approach rather than simply focusing on insurance concerns.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs