Extreme weather events will increasingly risk lives and property

The most recent IPCC impact assessment report provides insights into the potential suffering humanity will face due to the increasingly adverse effects of climate change.

During his opening words at the World Meteorological Day in 20221, UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the fact that 50% of the world’s population is now living in areas that are, or will be, impacted by more frequent and more extreme weather phenomena.

With the help of early warnings from modern weather detection systems, people can better prepare for flooding, heatwaves, drought, and other extreme weather events. Weather information plays a key role in saving lives and protecting property, which will allow civilians and authorities alike more time to prepare for a natural catastrophe.

“Early warning and action save lives,” Guterres noted. Unfortunately, around one third of the world’s population, and mainly those living in less developed countries and smaller developing nations, are currently still not protected by early warning weather detection systems.

Guterres said, “In Africa, the situation is even worse, as 60% of people lack coverage. This is unacceptable, particularly with climate impact sure to get worse.”

His opening remarks included an announcement that, “The United Nations will spearhead new action to ensure that every person on Earth is protected by early warning systems within five years.”

Guterres also stated that “Keeping the 1.5-degree limit alive, requires a 45% reduction in global emissions by 2030 to reach carbon neutrality by mid-century. However, in fact, global emissions are set to rise by 14%, …the world must end its addiction to fossil fuel, especially coal.”

Extreme weather events are becoming increasingly frequent and more severe, with many events occuring as a direct result of global warming.

Accelerating impacts of global warming

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) is set to lead this effort. In his opening remarks, Professor Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the WMO, provided insights into key facts and indicators that illustrate the current state of the global climate.

“Firstly, greenhouse gases are currently at record levels. Also, the previous seven years (2015-2021) have been the warmest ever recorded.” He further highlighted the fact that 90% of the heat is stored in the ocean, resulting in the increasing number of tropical storms being recorded. In addition, sea levels have continued to rise by 3-4 millimetres during this seven-year period, increasing the amount of flooding. As our oceans and seas continue to warm, the melting of glaciers and sea ice continues to accelerate. Finally, 23% of carbon emissions are absorbed by our oceans and forests, which has been at a heavy ecological cost because of ocean acidification.

In his presentation, Taalas noted that, “Between 2010 and 2019, over 23 million (people) have been displaced by climate change per year. Furthermore, food production has been severely impacted, as the world faces severe agricultural drought twice as often as before, when such events occurred once every ten years.”

Cascading effects of global warming

graph about cascading effects of global warming.
Source: WMO, World Meterological Day, March 2022

Preparedness as a priority

Humanity needs to adapt to the coming changes caused by global warning. This means reducing CO2 emissions, but also by making the necessary investments into preparedness and resilience. Having the capabilities in place to protect lives and property in the event of extreme weather events, such as major thunderstorms, heavy snowfall, increased lightning events, flooding and heatwaves, will be critical to maintain resilience, even in areas that have previously been free of such events.

According to the UN2, an early warning system (EWS) is “an adaptive measure for climate change, using integrated communication systems to help communities prepare for hazardous climate-related events. A successful EWS saves lives and jobs, land and infrastructure, and supports long-term sustainability.”

Essentially, an early warning system will effectively alert communities about hazard events, communicate accurate monitoring information based on observations and data from e.g., sensors, to enable warnings that will then be disseminated by radio, television and other networks to households. Successful EWS require coordination across multiple authorities and sectors, supporting evacuation, search and rescue, as well as the supply of emergency relief goods to impacted areas, for example.

 An EWS is part of an emergency system, which aims to protect both property and human lives. Also, by utilising existing tools, such as flood maps which include historical data, companies can understand the likelihood of a flood event in the area. Satellite data during an event will also help clients understand the extent of the impact caused by the event.

Modelling tools provide quantitative data on the expected loss of a potential event. Insurers can use this information to make an assessment, based on the number of clients in that specific geographical region, of the potential overall exposure that exists in that particular area. 

stormy weather on the sea.

Calculating the likelihood of an event helps focus on the critical preparedness and business continuity planning-related details for clients. Working together with clients, If Insurance helps clients manage these risks, putting the data to work to further protect lives and property.

Long-term solutions needed

According to Jukka Forssén, Senior Adviser at If Insurance, “There are several global climate change drivers, including urbanisation and economic development, and we can expect that climate-related risks will increase. Natural catastrophe events will continue to impact businesses; we see that global warming is a reality that we must learn to live with in the long term. We also expect the number of climate change related incidents and accidents to increase in the future.”

Climate change affects us all, and therefore requires long-term solutions that actively involve the insurance industry in partnership with other stakeholders. If supports and participates in a number of research projects in the Nordic region in order to better understand the risk of climate-related damage and to develop preventative measures.

“Sufficient mitigation and adaptation measures are needed to tackle climate change-related hazards,” says Forssén. “The consequences of failing to prepare for NatCat risks are already visible. In fact, according to the Swiss Re Institute, global insurance industry losses from natural catastrophes amounted to USD 105 billion in 2021.”

With our internal Natural Hazard Competence Centre, at If we aim to increase our competence and expertise regarding natural hazards. As part of this, we offer our clients a service to tag and monitor insured property and cargo storage locations worldwide using geo-coordinates. The locations are visible on a scalable natural hazard world map in our digital If Login portal. When a major natural disaster happens, or when one is about to happen, both we and our clients can zoom into the affected area and identify locations at risk. 

“Sustainability ambitions are rooted deep in If culture, and as part of this we have put great focus on supporting the renewable landscape. This has been extremely important for If Insurance and we have taken several steps over the past year to be a part of the transition and help push ESG (environmental, societal and governance) targets towards a cleaner and greener future,” concludes Forssén. 

Jukka Forssen photo.

Meet our expert

Jukka Forssén

Senior Adviser

1) WMO press release, 23 March 2022 
2)  United Nations, Climate solutions, early warning systems

Written by

Kristian Orispää