In Graphic Detail: As Sea Levels Rise, Insurance Retreats

In Graphic Detail: As Sea Levels Rise, Insurance Retreats

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West of New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland, the coastal community of Muriwai, population 1,410, is well known for its black-sand beach, gannet colony, and relaxed vibe. But in February 2023, Cyclone Gabrielle devastated the settlement. Huge landslides tore hilltop houses from their foundations and smashed them to pieces on the road below.

A year on, many of Muriwai’s residents are grappling with whether to rebuild or relocate—a dilemma faced by people across the globe as climate impacts, such as sea level rise and extreme weather, make many homes more vulnerable to disaster. But sometimes, communities’ answers to such existential questions can be made for them by their insurance companies.

A new study from New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research highlights how quickly people living in high-risk areas can lose their home insurance. The research predicts the likely timescale of insurance retreat—the point at which insurance companies stop offering or renewing residential insurance due to the high risk of damage.

In the paper, the researchers identify 10,238 properties in Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, and Dunedin that currently have a one percent chance of experiencing extreme coastal flooding annually, and model how storm surges, erosion, and shoreline recession will impact these areas. They also report a 99 percent chance of at least a partial insurance retreat for these properties within a decade and a full insurance retreat within 20 to 25 years.

In Graphic Detail: As Sea Levels Rise, Insurance Retreats

A new study shows that many coastal New Zealanders could lose their housing insurance within 25 years. Graphic created by Mark Garrison with data from Storey et al.

The findings are significant for adaptation planning in New Zealand and around the world. At present, seaside homes remain sought after, even as inundation becomes more frequent. The authors say that as inundation and other climate-related risks grow, communities, businesses, and governments must act with adaptation in mind rather than bet against the next high tide.