Insurance and Climate Change column

Report: More U.S. Residents Heading Toward Climate Change Dangers Than Away

By | August 26, 2021

It’s counterintuitive to run toward a fire, or any risk for that matter, but that mindest doesn’t seem to always hold.

U.S. counties with the biggest proportions of homes facing high heat, drought, fire, flood and storm risk saw their populations grow from 2016-2020, according to a report out this week from Redfin.

According to the report, the 50 U.S. counties with the largest share of homes facing high heat risk saw populations increase by an average of 4.7% from 2016 through 2020, and the 50 counties with the largest percentage of homes facing high drought, fire, flood and storm risk experienced average population growth of 3.5%, 3%, 1.9% and 0.4%, respectively.

Both were due to positive net migration.

Oddly, the counties with the smallest share of homes facing climate risk largely saw their populations decline.

Redfin examined data from climate-data startup ClimateCheck, county property records and the U.S. Census Bureau.

“People have been gravitating to places with severe climate risk because many of these areas are relatively affordable, have lower property taxes, more housing options or access to nature,” said Redfin Economist Sebastian Sandoval-Olascoaga. “For a lot of people, these benefits seem to outweigh the dangers of climate change. But as natural disasters become more frequent, homeowners in these areas may end up losing property value or face considerable difficulty getting their properties insured against environmental disasters.”

Of the 50 counties with the largest share of properties facing high heat risk, 40 had median sale prices below the national level ($315,000), and of the 50 counties with the largest share of properties facing high storm risk, 30 had median sale prices below the national level last year, according to Redfin.

Greenhouse Gases, Sea Levels

Greenhouse gases and global sea levels reached record highs in 2020, according to the 31st annual State of the Climate report.

The international annual review of the world’s climate, led by scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information is based on contributions from more than 530 scientists in 60-plus countries.

The review, which was published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, gives an update on the year’s global climate indicators, notable weather events and other data from environmental monitoring stations and instruments.

The report’s findings include:

  • Earth’s greenhouse gases were the highest on record. The major atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20), rose to a record high in 2020 – despite a global pandemic that slowed economic activity around the world, the global annual average atmospheric CO2 concentration was 412.5 parts per million (ppm).
  • Global sea level was the highest on record. For the ninth consecutive year, global average sea level rose to a new record high and was about 3.6 inches higher than the 1993 average—the start of the satellite measurement record. Global sea level is rising at an average rate of 1.2 inches per decade.
  • Earth’s warming trend continued. Annual global surface temperatures were 0.97–1.12 degrees F above the 1981–2010 average. This places 2020 among the three-warmest years since records began in the mid- to late 1800s, and the warmest year on record without an El Nino.
  • Tropical cyclone activity was well above average. There were 102 named tropical storms during the Northern and Southern Hemisphere storm seasons, well above the 1981–2010 average of 85.

Swiss Re

Swiss Re and Climeworks are partnering to combat climate change by signing what’s being touted as “the world’s first long-term purchase agreement for direct air capture and storage of carbon dioxide,” worth an estimated $10 million over 10 years.

For Swiss Re, the collaboration is another move toward its goal of reaching net-zero emissions in its own operations by 2030. Swiss Re said the partnership is also a sign of its support for the carbon removal industry and gives the group early access to the new carbon removal risk pools and asset classes, according to an article in Insurance Journal this week.

The term of 10 years and the total value of US$10 million are so far unmatched in the voluntary market for this type of high-quality carbon removal, sending an important demand signal to developers, investors and other buyers, according to Swiss Re.

The companies also agreed to collaborate on developing risk management and risk transfer solutions, and explore future investment and project finance opportunities.

“To mitigate the risks of climate change, the world needs to scale-up carbon removal on top of, not instead of emission reductions. By partnering with Climeworks we can play to our strengths in this endeavour, as a risk taker, investor, and forward-looking buyer of climate solutions,” reads a statement from Christian Mumenthaler, Swiss Re’s group CEO, who co-chairs the World Economic Forum’s Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders.

The carbon removal solution offered by Climeworks in Iceland filters carbon dioxide from ambient air using geothermal energy. The captured CO2 is then sent for permanent storage in nearby rock layers. It is dissolved in water and pumped deep underground, where it reacts naturally with the surrounding basalt rock to form stable carbonate minerals – the CO2 literally turns into stone.


Extraordinary downpours like those responsible for flooding in Western Europe last month are becoming more frequent and more intense because of climate change, according to a study by researchers involved in the World Weather Attribution initiative.

The study was reported on in the journal Nature on Thursday.

“This happened in highly-developed Germany, which is not regarded as particularly vulnerable to climate change compared to most countries in the world,” said Ralf Toumi, a climate scientist at Imperial College London, who was not involved in the research. “It shows us nowhere is truly safe as we continue to roll the dice of extreme weather.”

Germany is likely to see as much as $20 billion in direct economic damage, while the country’s insurers could see losses of €4.5 billion to €5.5 billion ($5.3 billion to $6.5 billion), which would be the costliest individual natural disaster for the German insurance industry on record.

The Nature article indicates that the models used by the researchers suggested that human-caused climate change had increased the rainfall intensity of such storms by 3% to 19%, and that similar events can now be expected to hit any part of Western Europe about once every 400 years.

One of the researchers involved in the report says they were able to show that “in Western Europe, greenhouse gas emissions have made events like these more likely.”

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Topics USA Climate Change

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