The effects of climate change: An increase in coastal flood damage in Northern Europe

Climate change is affecting storm surges in Europe. Based on the findings of scientific research, Swiss Re forecasts a significant increase in coastal damage in the long term. By the end of this century, once-in-a-millennium storm surge events could well be striking Northern Europe every 30 years. Governments and insurers will have additional risk to manage as a result.

Climate change will lead to more frequent and intense winter storms in Europe. Coupled with rising sea levels, flood damage will increase in the long term. This is the conclusion Swiss Re draws based on research it conducted in collaboration with the University of Berne in Switzerland.

Scientists have combined Swiss Re’s loss model with climate and storm surge models to quantify the impact of climate change on Northern European coastal flood damage. Assuming the IPCC scenario A2 with a predicted sea level rise of 0.37 m, losses are forecast to increase in all countries towards the end of this century. The study confirms what many have suspected, namely:

  • an increase in peak surge height of between 36% and 55% compared to today’s levels
  • a disproportionate increase in annual expected losses of between 100% and 900%, depending on the country (at today’s values)
  • a water level seen once in a 1000 years occurring – on average – more often than every 30 years

For the affected countries, these scenarios mean ensuring that the impacts of climate change are integrated systematically into risk assessment and risk management processes. 

Adaptation through adequate sea defences and the management of the residual risk is essential. While the insurance industry is an important contributor to the absorption of volatile risk, it cannot address the challenges of climate change alone: To tackle this, a public-private partnership will be indispensable. Beyond traditional insurance, Swiss Re can contribute through alternative forms of risk transfer to absorb highly volatile losses.

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