Picture (above): Property damaged by the East Gippsland fires in Sarsfield, Victoria, Australia January 1, 2020. Credit: Ninian Reid (Flickr CC BY 2.0)

by Dr Bruce Buckley, IAG Natural Perils
In September 2020, IAG and NCAR released a report Severe Weather in a Changing Climate (second edition), which incorporated research findings from numerous CLEX researchers. CLEX feedback also led to the incorporation of a new section on connected extremes in this report, highlighting the value of research into weather extremes.

IAG is the largest general insurer in Australia and New Zealand, with Australian brands including NRMA Insurance, CGU, WFI, SGIO, SGIC and Poncho Insurance.  Through its brands, IAG has been providing insurance services in Australia for more than 160 years, including insurance for homes, businesses and farms, as well as motor vehicles, caravans and boats. Each of these are exposed to all forms of damaging events related to the weather, notably bushfires, tropical cyclones, flash and river floods and severe convective storms, including hailstorms.

It is therefore important that IAG understands the past, present and future frequency and intensity distributions of all forms of severe weather that impact Australia and New Zealand, along with the accompanying natural variability and compounding effects of these phenomena, as much as possible. To assist with this process, IAG has a Natural Perils team, which includes a team of specialists and data analysts with expertise that spans the fields of meteorology, climatology, oceanography, hydrology, geology, statistics, engineering and geospatial analysis. However, the breadth and complexity of these fields means the IAG team cannot do everything themselves.

IAG partners with a range of research and engineering organisations within and outside Australia to better understand these phenomena, their impacts and how they are currently and will continue to change in the future. Risk models are developed for the key damaging phenomena so that the financial impacts of these damaging systems can be quantified. By understanding the current state of the science linking the impacts of major catastrophes to comprehensive claims reports – and knowing the limitations of this science – IAG can better prepare its teams to respond to customers and communities that suffer the damaging impacts caused by natural disasters now and into the future. This understanding also positions IAG to better support and target a range of initiatives to mitigate the damage from these weather phenomena before they occur, and to provide information when there is a likely need for changes to building codes and land planning.

One of IAG’s research partners is the US-based National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) where Dr Cindy Bruyere, Dr Greg Holland and Dr Andreas Prein all participate in research projects. In 2019, NCAR and IAG released a report Severe Weather in a Changing Climate. This report included the latest available information on the state of the climate and predictions on future extreme weather events based on a range global warming scenarios (up to 3°C from pre-industrial times).

Recognising  the report was only the first step to develop a more comprehensive understanding of damaging weather events, IAG invited feedback from academic institutions and government agencies across the nation.

IAG and NCAR received extensive feedback and determined a second edition was needed to incorporate the large amount research, particularly with an Australian focus, that was becoming available since the time or writing of the initial report.

Excellent assistance was received from a wide spectrum of CLEX researchers and the Centre’s Knowledge Brokerage Team. With the additional input from CLEX, the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, the list of papers in the bibliography expanded to around 300 papers.

This research underscores and expands on many of the findings from the original report. The second report can be found here.

The importance of the report was recognised at the highest levels of IAG. IAG CEO and Managing Director at that time, Peter Harmer, said at its launch: “Extreme weather events affect Australian communities financially, socially and psychologically and we must do everything we can to prevent a repeat of the heartbreaking loss of life and property we saw last summer.

“This report shows climate change is already affecting the frequency and location of extremely damaging weather events in Australia and our communities have felt this firsthand. We see these impacts when we are on the ground helping our customers and their communities rebuild their lives.

“The science is clear that in a warmer climate these events will become more frequent and more destructive and this is why it’s crucial we work collaboratively to mitigate these events and ensure we are prepared.” I would like to close with some final words of encouragement to those students completing their science and mathematics degrees. There is a real need for good science and statistical analysis in Australia so that commercial entities like IAG, government and non-profit organisations can work together to develop science-based solutions to real-world problems being faced by communities and individuals across our nation. Without this good science, solutions and initiatives could be less than optimal in our efforts to make the world a safer place for all.