NZ extreme weather losses near historic highs
New Zealand is counting the mounting cost of extreme weather, with insured losses this year reaching the second-highest total since full-year records began in 1969.
The record payout was last year, when $NZ243 million ($231.1 million) was paid out – compared with insured losses of $NZ226.4 million ($215.3 million), from 33,064 claims this year.
The Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) says the two-year spike in extreme weather claims “is in large part due to the impacts of climate change”.
“To have two years in a row in the most expensive years on record is an indicator of the increasing frequency and intensity of storms in New Zealand,” CEO Tim Grafton said.
The country was particularly hard hit by wild weather in the first four months of this year, with storms and tornadoes in early April accounting for $NZ74.4 million ($70.7 million) in claims.
Damage from Cyclone Fehi in February was the next most costly event with losses of $NZ45.9 million ($43.6 million), while the remains of Tropical Cyclone Gita triggered $NZ35.6 million ($33.9 million) in claims.
Mr Grafton says the losses highlight the importance of New Zealand adapting to climate change, with impacts likely to increase over time. Figures presented at the recent ICNZ conference in Auckland showed 53% of people thought climate change was concerning.
“It’s important that we take that concern and turn it into action,” he said. “The sooner we adapt to our changing climate, the less adaptation will cost us and the less we will be impacted by the increasing frequency and severity of storms.”
A New Zealand Treasury report says climate change-induced droughts cost the country $NZ720 million ($684.6 million) in economic losses in the 10 years to 2017, and warns the total economic impact when flooding and severe weather are added will be much greater.
Preliminary National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research research has found 125,600 buildings are at risk from sea level rises of up to a metre, representing potential replacement costs of $NZ38 billion ($36 billion), while the sea level is expected to increase 0.2-0.3 metres in the next 20 years.
“With these sea level rises come increasing risks from storms and coastal inundation as well as the increased risks of ever higher water tables and sunny day flooding,” Mr Grafton said.
House and contents losses related to severe weather this year have generated 24,251 claims for a total cost of $NZ128.5 million ($122.2 million). In the commercial sector 6071 claims have been lodged for insured losses of $NZ81.2 million ($77.2 million).