Home / Analysis / Climate change: still in denial as neighbourhoods burn
16 September 2019
Australia’s biggest insurers have flagged the importance of urgent action on climate change as out-of-season bushfires rip through Queensland and NSW.
However, some politicians, media commentators – and some readers of insuranceNEWS.com.au – still prefer to score cheap points than contribute to genuine solutions.
Leaders at IAG and Suncorp tell insuranceNEWS.com.au the evidence is clear – our changing climate is leading to more frequent and severe extreme weather.
IAG Executive Manager Natural Perils Mark Leplastrier says rising temperatures will likely result in prolonged and severe bushfire seasons as we head towards summer in “ongoing drought conditions”.
“Bushfires increasingly are occurring outside the traditional bushfire season which normally starts at the end of September,” he said.
“We saw this in August 2018 with bushfires in Tathra and with the current bushfires in Queensland and northern NSW.
“The increasing number of unseasonal or record extreme weather [events] is telling us an inescapable truth – that climate change is happening and that it will continue to impact our communities financially and socially.”
Suncorp’s new CEO Steve Johnston is singing from the same hymn sheet.
In an interview with insuranceNEWS.com.au, he confirmed the insurer’s vast data reserves back up the science.
“As an insurance company we have a lot of actuarial data at our disposal and I don’t think there is any doubt that the frequency and intensity and severity of weather activity has increased over the past five to 10 years,” he said.
“We’ve had to increase all of our allowances for weather like the rest of the industry, and we’ve bought some more reinsurance cover to protect our balance sheet from the volatility that comes from those events.
“The most important point from our perspective is [partnering] with government around making communities and properties more resilient.
“If we just sit back and wait for these events to happen and pick up the pieces, that becomes an unsustainable model in an environment where weather events are becoming more regular and more intense.”
The latest Actuaries Institute Climate Index shows extreme heat and dryness is a continuing trend, with Finity Consultant and Actuary Tim Andrews telling insuranceNEWS.com.au the current fires are at least “partly linked” to unseasonal warm weather.
Meanwhile, reinsurance broker Guy Carpenter says increasingly severe bushfires are a global problem, with last year’s Camp Fire in northern California causing a record $US12 billion ($17.49 billion) in insured losses.
Fires have become larger and more severe and populations are expanding into riskier zones, MD Robert Reader says.
“Wildfire-related losses have significantly increased in the past several decades as more and more properties have been built in such areas — the areas where human development encroaches on and interacts with natural woodlands or vegetation that is at high risk for wildfire,” he said.
At the same time, he confirms changing weather patterns are “clearly influencing wildfire activity”.
But all this expert commentary isn’t enough for some.
“Teens charged with arson. Are their names ‘climate’ and ‘change’?” asks the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt.
A reader of insuranceNEWS.com.au posted a similar comment to our website (which wasn’t published after being caught by our swear filter) after we highlighted IAG’s concerns in our Daily bulletin.
“Deliberately lit you clowns at IAG – maybe [Greens leader] Di Natale has taken over the CEO role.”
Never mind the fact there have been more than 100 fires across the two states, and that even if ignition was deliberate in some cases, our changing climate helps create the catastrophic conditions to fan the flames.
Such comments are not unusual.
And Mr Bolt goes further in his column, arguing that warmist “vultures” can’t have it both ways by arguing climate change is responsible for more floods and fires.
“This blaming of global warming for both fires and flood seems a bit desperate,” he writes.
This is very simplistic thinking – as scientists tell us this is exactly what will happen.
Mr Bolt is keen to point out that Australia may well see fewer cyclones in future – but he fails to note they will also be more intense and slower moving, dumping more rainfall on affected areas.
On bushfires, he chooses to ignore the global scientific consensus that rising temperatures have already resulted in extended fire seasons, and greater temperature extremes will see catastrophic bushfire conditions develop more often.
To top it off, we were also treated last week to Federal Natural Disasters Minister David Littleproud’s bombshell that he wasn’t sure whether man-made climate change was real.
Where does all this leave us?
Insurance industry leaders accept the truth and want to address it, as shown by the comments from IAG and Suncorp.
The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) is also very clear on the issue, releasing a public statement earlier this year.
“The impacts of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are becoming increasingly evident through the occurrence of more frequent and intense extreme weather events, sea level rise and global mean temperature increase,” ICA says.
But while significant numbers of people within the industry, key politicians and media commentators pull in the opposite direction, it will remain hard to do what needs to be done.
And if inaction continues, we are set for more damaging out-of-season bushfires and more off-the-chart flood events like Townsville.
When you look at the evidence, it’s not that hard to understand.