Home / Insight / Global warming, flooding, and erosion – why should Property Insurers care?

Global warming, flooding, and erosion – why should Property Insurers care?


Marise Gellert is a member of our Property Risks & Coverage Special Interest Group on Emerging Risks: Climate Change and recently attended the online “Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum: Next steps for mitigating flooding and coastal erosion risk in England and Wales”

Marise shares some of her thoughts on the sobering statistics for Property Insurers below:

Did you know?

According to the Environment Agency (‘EA’):

  • There could be up to 59% more precipitation in winters by 2050.
  • Summer temperatures could be up to 7.5°C hotter by 2050.
  • The sea level could rise by up to 1.15m by 2100.

So why should Property Insurers be concerned by those statistics?

Well, to date we have already had 10 named storms this winter 2023/2024 (can you name them all?*) and according to the EA there are:

  • 5.2 million properties currently at risk of flooding in England.
  • 2000 properties at risk of being lost to coastal erosion by 2060.

There were 259 active flood warnings in place simultaneously in England in one day at the beginning of January and Storm Henk (I’ll give you that one for free!) alone saw over 2,000 properties flooded. That damage was made worse by the fact that most properties had not yet recovered from the preceding storms, particularly Storm Babet (you can have that one too!)

It should be of some concern to Property Insurers that the EA found that 59% of those in at-risk areas did not believe that their property would flood. That demonstrates a very high level of naivety and likely means they have not taken any steps to mitigate potential damage should the (almost inevitable) flood actually happen.

Increases in rainfall over the next 25 years or so will lead to higher groundwater levels and longer high groundwater levels through future winters as well, leading to increased numbers of, and more severe, floods. 

Added to that is the increase in surface water flooding - according to a report published in November 2022 by the National Infrastructure Commission (‘NIC’)  the Government's official, independent adviser on long-term infrastructure planning:

  • Around 325,000 properties in England are in areas of high surface water flood risk. 
  • With climate change, and increasing population growth, that could go up by 70% to 550,000 properties.

Unbelievably in the face of what we are already seeing, contrary to EA advice, additional properties are still being built on floodplains.  

Inevitably some property owners will face a tough reality check – is their property sustainable and perhaps more to the point, insurable, in the face of climate change?

Isn’t that what Flood Re is there for?

Well, yes, for the time being but Flood Re will exit the market 2039 (that’s only 15 years away!), so this is a challenge to which Property Insurers will have to rise at some point.

There were calls at the Forum for consideration to be given to a compensation scheme for those forced to relocate if their property could not be protected against flood but how would that be funded and by whom?

Please tell me there is some good news…

The EA has made significant improvements to the flood warning system, such that all properties at high risk of flooding now receive flood warnings (110,000 additional homes). This is particularly important because a lot of those properties are in the harder to reach rural communities and it now enables them to take steps to mitigate potential damage, which is a significant step forward.

We also know that traditional flood defences do work. According to Flood Re every £1 spent on flood defence maintenance leads to a saving of £7 on avoidable future costs.

I can feel a ‘but’ coming on….

Well, yes. The EA is unable to maintain its flood defences, primarily due to insufficient funding and there are homes and businesses that cannot be protected with traditional flood defences alone, in light of the increasing levels of groundwater and surface water.

So what is being done?

The NIC’s analysis indicated that investment in new drainage measures could reduce the number of properties at high risk by 2055 by about 60%.

Pressure is being exerted on the Government to consider both hard engineering and nature-based solutions and for there to be changes to planning regulations to reduce the amount of development taking place within floodplains.

Clearly, in the absence of sufficient funding for infrastructure improvements, there needs to be more focus on flood resilience measures. Simply reinstating a property to its pre-flood state leaves it exposed to future floods whereas investing in property level flood resilience measures lessens the impact of future flooding, enabling householders to return to their homes sooner and significantly reducing repair costs.

The good news is that in 2002 Flood Re launched the “Build Back Better” scheme, which offers householders the chance to install property flood resilience measures up to the value of £10,000 when repairing their properties after a flood.

The scheme also covers the cost of surveys to understand the flood risk and potential mitigation of individual properties.

Over 70% of Insurers are now committed to offering ‘Build Back Better’, each doing their bit to improve the resilience of the UK’s overall housing stock to the impact of the UK’s changing climate.

We still have a long way to go and if the statistics above are anything to go by, we need to get on with it!

Do I need to start building an Ark?

Probably not just yet….but watch this space!

For more information please contact Marise Gellert or Matthew Rogers, Partners in our Property Risks & Coverage Team. 


 *Agnes, Babet, Ciarán, Debi, Elin, Fergus, Gerrit, Henk, Isha, Jocelyn

Marise Gellert

Marise Gellert


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