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Bushfire costs will grow, but will insurance be able to keep up?


Image Credit: CSIRO

This article was originally published on my LinkedIn profile.

I’ve seen plenty of coverage of the recent Climate Council report on the likely increase in bushfire losses. But in reality these growing costs could be far higher and even more unequally distributed.

The figures for economic losses are based primarily around insured losses (which in economic terms aren’t really a loss, assuming that the bushfire risk has been priced correctly), and this assumes that in the future most properties will still be insured against bushfire. But the larger conflagrations brought on by climate change as well as the closer coupling of disaster events (the longer fire seasons will make it more likely that multiple large bushfire disasters happen in any one year) will increase the costs for insurers and make it more likely that any one bushfire season could bankrupt them. In theory, the larger the loss in the worst case scenario, the higher premiums need to be in order for insurance companies to remain solvent. In practice, insurance companies push up premiums after large disaster events, even for different hazards. Together these mean that as climate change increases bushfire risk, in particular the risk of catastrophic outcomes, insurers will charge ever higher premiums and some may withdraw from the market entirely. This will lead to far fewer people being covered when a bushfire disaster strikes, with the government and charities being left to pick up the slack.

Perhaps it’s time then that the Federal Government revisited the idea of a national disaster insurance scheme – to ensure that future generations can meet the costs of these disasters.