Tech boffins visualise rising sea levels and insurance premiums

Coastal Risk Australia will help assess flood risk. Source: Wikipedia.
Coastal Risk Australia will help assess flood risk. Source: Wikipedia.

New online tools will help people see future sea level rises in their local areas and even potential insurance changes as a result of climate change.

Coastal Risk Australia combines elevation data from Geoscience Australia and sea level rise scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with Google Maps to show what the Australian coastline might look like in 2100.

Using the same data, Climate Valuation will help calculate changes in insurance premiums.

Developer of Coastal Risk Australia, Nathan Eaton developed the approach of using maps to reveal future flooding at the Paris climate conference last year.

“We were showcasing some of the work we’ve done in the Pacific islands and that really showed us the value of showing people the impacts of climate change rather than telling them,” he said.

This is where Karl Mallon and Climate Valuation come in.

They want to use this data to pinpoint streets where insurance may go up or houses prices may go down due to climate change.

“Around Australia we know that a lot of people are living in coastal suburbs which are quite low lying and when we analyse addresses we’re seeing certain streets where we think the cost of insurance will go up considerably or the property will start to reduce in value as people start to factor risk into their decision making,” he said.

Mr Mallon said the insurance industry is already factoring sea level rises and other climate change impacts into their policies.

“The insurance industry is very aware of the risks from extreme weather and the way climate change could potentially affect those hazards and there are some insurers who won’t provide coverage in some of the high risk areas,” he said.

“Now in terms of going forward there are some hazards that are particularly problematic because they’re actually excluded from current policies so for example you could be in a canal development and if there is salt water inundation to the property that’s not actually covered by your insurance premiums — so ‘actions of the sea’ are usually excluded from every normal residential insurance policy”

And when it comes to the sea, there are many different scenarios.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has come up with various sea level rise predictions based on different temperature rises.

According to the IPCC Fifth Assessment report, that could be anywhere between 440 to 740 cm by 2100.

Coastal Risk allows users to apply low, medium and high scenarios to an area of their choice.

Just overlaying the low sea rise scenario onto the Google map of Brisbane shows the entire airport being swallowed up at high tide.

A similar fate befalls areas around Norman, Bulimba and Tingalpa creeks and much of the Gold Coast.

But being able to determine the costs of those risks might become more difficult.

The information Climate Valuation uses for its calculations comes from the CSIRO and the CRC for Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems.

Karl Mallon said the reorganisation of the CSIRO’s climate programs could make it harder to understand these problems in the future.

“It’s funny, but we’re using the research of some of the organisations which are potentially going to be disbanded under the CSIRO reorganisations,” he said.

“It would be a great shame to lose that capacity for example in northern Australia where the impacts of cyclones with tides is very poorly understood and lots of those in the private sector and the research sector want that problem sorted out and if we lose these organisations I personally believe we will lose the ability to get that information.”

Mr Mallon said this loss of data would also make it harder for local governments to incorporate climate change risks into their plans.

But then, perversely, he said some councils may actually have to fork out compensation to residents for letting them build in risky areas.

The previous Queensland LNP government came under fire when Deputy Premier and Planning Minister Jeff Seeney ordered the Moreton Bay Regional Council to remove references to climate change in their planning documents.

“Those sea level rise benchmarks were being put in place so people did not build properties that were going to be at risk,” Mr Mallon said.

“It just seems astonishing that you could be buying the biggest asset of your life and you cannot count on someone having put that in a prudent and safe place.”

Spokesman for the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) Craig Johnstone said all coastal councils are aware of their responsibilities to adapt to climate change and a state government grant of $15 million over three years would help them prepare for future risks.

“The current Palaszczuk government has made it clear that it expects councils and itself to take into account the impact of climate change on future planning law and planning decisions,” he said.


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