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Insurance policy for floods has a major influence on increasing risks

22 December 2023
A changing climate is not the only risk for flooding. The influence of insurance policy is not sufficiently highlighted. In many European areas this appears to be a greater cause of increasing flood risk than climate change. Social costs also rise and society becomes more vulnerable to these disasters if not all risks are taken into account. Adjusting the compensation policy seems to be the solution.

Human behavior vs. climate change
When assessing future flood risks, fairly simple assumptions are often made. These assessments focus on changing water conditions as a result of climate change. However, little account is taken of population growth and increasing construction in lower-lying areas, the danger areas. While this has a major influence. The increasing number of buildings within a flood area is a greater cause of increasing flood risk in many European areas than climate change.

Increasing risks and costs
Growth is stimulated by how compensation for damage is now structured, also known as the compensation policy. In the Netherlands, damage caused by floods is, to a certain extent, compensated within the Disaster Damage Compensation Act (Wet Tegemoetkoming Schade bij rampen, WTS). This reduces the possible financial consequences and allows the positive aspects of building in hazardous areas to outweigh the disadvantages. The risks seem smaller, but in reality the danger is just as great. Because the prediction remains that the sea level will rise by one meter. Another disadvantage is the rising costs for society. The compensation for damage is financed with general tax money and we all contribute to this.

Adjust compensation policy
Policymakers must therefore have sufficient information and look at the issue from all angles to make the right decisions in combating climate risks. Taking human behavior into account in this decision is important. By adjusting the damage compensation policy, the risk of flooding can be reduced. In many European areas this is an effective way to reduce future flood risks. Compared to extremely expensive measures such as raising dikes, this solution also costs much less. This is evident from the study by VU environmental economists Max Tesselaar, Wouter Botzen, Timothy Tiggeloven and Jeroen Aerts, which was published in Nature Communications. They have developed a method to predict future risk, but at the same time the influence from insurance markets is taken into a

Eliminated industries
Society also becomes more vulnerable when more buildings are built in areas that are easily flooded. If an industry is (temporarily) shut down due to a flood, this can have long-lasting economic consequences. In addition, more buildings in low areas create a "lock-in" effect. Policymakers then practically have no choice but to opt for the expensive measure of raising dikes to protect these areas.

Encourage risk-averse behavior
Targeted policy is therefore needed to tackle the causes of flooding. By not only looking at the aspects of climate change, but also taking into account policies that influence developments in danger areas, more effective choices are possible and increasing risks are limited.