Insurer warns urgent action needed to build climate resilience

UK insurer Aviva has called for urgent action to protect the country’s homes and businesses from the impact of climate change.

The underwriter has issued its first Building Future Communities report which spells out the steps it believes need to be taken to ensure UK homes and businesses are protected from flood and extreme weather events caused by climate change.

The report calls on government, local authorities, developers, industry bodies and business to address the threats climate change poses to UK property, livelihoods and communities.

It which draws together data, analysis and expertise from a variety of sources, outlines the threats being faced by people, homes and businesses now and in the near future, and demonstrates how communities can prepare for the challenges they may face.

Aviva has called for seven steps to be urgently taken to build the foundation of better resilience in the face of ever more volatile natural perils:

  1. Greater use of innovative nature-based solutions that are adapted to the UK landscapeInnovative, site-specific nature-based solutions that help to guard against multiple climate risks, for example, Aviva’s partnership with WWF to help improve flood resilience.
  2. Ensure small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are sufficiently protected against extreme weather – new commercial properties built today to be fit for purpose, and for the government to better support SMEs in preparing for climate events.
  3. Strengthen planning regulation to protect UK properties – strengthen planning and building regulation to prevent new properties from being built on floodplains, and to ensure that all existing and future properties have adequate resilience and safety measures in place.
  4. More collaboration and research across all stages of the building process to combine sustainability with safety – from design to build, ensure that all current and future materials have both sustainability and safety in mind.
  5. Improve access to home insurance and narrow the insurance gap to protect those most at risk – increased research into the affordability and availability of insurance, and targeted measures to close the insurance gap – particularly among renters – and protect those most threatened by climate change.
  6. Encourage and incentivise property resilience to aid recovery – greater understanding, insight and collaboration on effective campaigns and incentives that drive preventative action against extreme weather impacts. These should include government grants to help return businesses and households to a greener and more resilient state after extreme weather events.
  7. Collaboration across recovery organisations to strengthen crisis response and resilience at community level – increased collaboration and support for communities through a more streamlined, quicker and joined-up crisis response to climate events, using insights from Covid-19 and existing community-level partnerships.

Adam Winslow, Chief Executive Officer of Aviva UK & Ireland General Insurance, said: “Severe floods and storms are an acute reminder of how extreme weather is already affecting people, homes and livelihoods, across the UK.  And it’s not just floods; subsidence and heat-related risks are likely to increase as temperatures rise, putting more homes and businesses under threat.  We can’t stop the changes that are already happening, but we can act – now – to help reduce their impact in the future.

“At Aviva, we see first-hand the trauma that these weather events can have on our customers, not just in the immediate aftermath of an event, but the long-term effect on wellbeing and financial resilience.

“Our Building Future Communities report sets out the challenges that lay ahead for the UK, the solutions that could help tackle some of the problems, and a call for collaboration to bring about urgent, tangible actions.”

The report highlights the impact that climate change is already having in the UK.  In 2020, the UK experienced severe floods in the spring and summer, and in February 2020, Aviva received almost a year’s worth of storm claims in just one month. The Environment Agency predicts that the UK will experience a 59% increase in rainfall and a rise in summer temperatures by 7.4c by 2050, which is likely to lead to more floods, heat and subsidence issues.

And whilst heatwaves can feel like a welcome respite, they can prove fatal for many vulnerable people. In 2020, there were more than 2,500 heat-related deaths during three heatwaves, and, without action, this is predicted to rise to 7,000 every year by 2050.

New research in the report shows an increasing concern from UK residents and small to medium business owners about how climate change will affect them. Nearly two fifths (38%) of UK householders think that climate change will have an impact on their homes in the next year, rising to half (50%) in the next five years and 57% in the next ten years. Of those who believe climate change will have an impact, nearly half (46%) believe storms or wind will affect their property, 42% worry about excess heat and a third (32%) are concerned about the impact from flooding.

It’s a similar story with small business owners. Nearly three fifths (57%) of SME owners believe that climate change will have an impact on their business in the next ten years, yet just 12% have a business continuity plan that includes climate change risks.

Although many householders are concerned about climate change, Aviva’s survey results show many are ill-prepared for the impacts or are taking little action to make their homes more resilient.  Only 9% of people feel fully prepared for a flood happening in their home, and 36% haven’t thought about it at all. A similar pattern emerges with preventative flood mitigation measures; three in five people (60%) in a high-risk flood area have not implemented any flood mitigation measures. The biggest reasons for not taking action are a belief that their home won’t flood (50% of respondents), an absence of action from others implementing measures (17%), and a lack of awareness (15%).

Winslow added: “As the Covid-19 crisis has shown, communities can be at their strongest when people, businesses and organisations come together for a common cause. To tackle climate change in the UK, a cultural shift is needed to better understand the risks from extreme weather and prepare for its impacts.  We need collective engagement from government, local authorities, industry and home and business owners to bring about this shift, to help build stronger, more prepared communities for the future.”

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Nearly three fifths (57%) of SME owners believe that climate change will have an impact on their business in the next ten years, yet just 12% have a business continuity plan that includes climate change risks.

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