Skip to content
21 May 2013
Another day and yet another scientific report has demonstrated the risks linked with natural disasters are rising. This time it’s fire.
Changes in Australian Fire Weather between 1973 and 2010 – published by the prestigious Royal Meteorological Society back in April but since kept quiet by its NSW Government paymasters – shows the 40-year trend associated with fire hazards is on the rise, particularly in the formerly tinder-dry parts of southern and southeast Australia which have in recent years received a long overdue deluge of rain.
This unusual two-year La Nina weather pattern, normally a 12-month oscillation associated with above average rainfall, has now come to an end, and experts are expecting a return to “normal” fire weather conditions.
“Two things happen after wet years,” Professor David Karoly, one of the world’s top minds in the field of climate change and weather patterns, told insuranceNEWS.com.au.
“In terms of fire weather, we would expect a return to drier conditions.
“Secondly, the wet conditions increase the amount of plant material or fuel load. That dries out very quickly in the summertime.
“Many regional fire services are putting out warnings of grass fires already and this season is expected to be one of the worst for many years.”
With a PhD in meteorology, author credits on the Fourth Assessment Report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – it was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 – and as a full-time climate change scientist, Professor Karoly is one of Australia’s highest-profile figures in a debate formed along ideological lines.
Ignoring, ridiculing or cherry-picking from an overwhelming body of scientific work, those on the far right dismiss climate change science as a conspiracy theory hatched to undermine capitalism. While Professor Karoly says he is happy to speak across the political spectrum on the science driving policies such as the carbon tax and emissions trading scheme, he admits he has become a target for ideologues.
“I think advocacy in science is sometimes considered to be a bad term, but advocacy of the best use of science is not a negative thing at all,” he told insuranceNEWS.com.au.
“[Conservative newspaper columnist] Andrew Bolt and a number of other people have included me in some of their commentary and I get sent a range of interesting emails. Usually, I don’t respond.
“I don’t have any difficulty engaging a wide range of people but how much they accept climate change isn’t based on the scientific conclusion but on their own decision-making.”
Commerce and industry have been either silent or slow to accept that human emissions may be causing irreversible changes to the Earth’s atmosphere.
For decades insurers have blown a lonely warning whistle among capitalists on the subject on climate change.
Since the 1970s, reinsurers Swiss Re and Munich Re have consistently reported the atmosphere is changing due to human emissions. These are not findings borne out of altruism but an economic truth that the cost of reinsurance will become so expensive in some parts of the world it will be unaffordable.
Professor Karoly applauds the work of international insurers on climate change but says local insurers haven’t been as active. Earlier this year the University of Sydney’s business school found the local insurance industry could play a critical role in encouraging adaptation to climate change but needs a commercial imperative to do so.
“My experience has been with IAG in Australia and I’m not aware of any other insurers in Australia being involved in climate change research,” he said.
“It has been pleasing to see the work the insurance industry has done, but it’s mainly been the reinsurance sector rather than the retail and household insurers.”
Indeed, Professor Karoly believes some insurers are viewing climate change as another economic challenge rather than as a problem requiring a solution.
“Some private companies perceive that public research should be funded out of the public purse,” he said.
“Now you could make an argument that even if climate-related natural disasters increase, the role for the insurance industry is simply to transfer that cost onto policyholders. All they have to do is put their fees up. That is a very negative or overly commercial approach.
“I have heard discussions from some insurers that they don’t need information on long changes on risk because they are translated into changes in their cost structures.
“However, there are certainly a number of senior insurance company mangers or spokesmen who have sought to point out the increasing risk associated with climate change and the impacts in both Australia and elsewhere.”
Professor Karoly is currently working for the Federal Government’s Climate Change Authority reviewing the carbon pricing mechanism, which is expected to release its findings later this year. He strongly believes Australia has the right policies in place to reduce carbon emissions.
“Because climate change is predicted to increase the risk of fire danger and because fire danger is increasing, the faster that Government policy reduces greenhouse gas emissions the faster that risk will be contained.”
15 May 2013
Do you have excellent customer service skills, experience in the administration field and have general insurance knowledge? Then we are looking for you!
8 May 2013
Extremely strong aggregating brand I Warm referrals I Manage existing relationships
6 May 2013
Full-time position I Great team environment I Bring your knowledge and skills to a company who values expertise
29 April 2013
An exciting opportunity exists to join Willis at the Sydney practice as an Account Manager, providing risk management and insurance advice to a broad range of insolvency practitioner clients.
23 April 2013
We are seeking a dynamic individual to lead a team of 170+ employees, delivering exceptional claims services to a range of customers nationally, while maintaining a focus on service standards, efficiency and effectiveness.
23 April 2013
This position offers a pathway smf training for the right person seeking a rewarding career in a specialty field within general insurance broking.