The effects of climate change are being felt across the planet, with increasing numbers of extreme weather events around the globe. At the same time, more people are calling big cities home. Farsighted communities have put strategies in place to help them cope better with challenges such as hurricanes and heat waves – before, during and after the event – and are taking action today.
In the latest episode of our Shaping Sustainable Places podcast, we speak with Sean Szatkowski and Philip Thörn, two people with great insights into what is being done. Sean is Executive Vice President and General Manager for Skanska USA Building, while Philip is Head of Sustainability at IF insurance, an insurance firm based in northern Europe.
Lessons from Hurricane Sandy
Sean has first-hand experience of extreme weather. He was in New York City when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 and saw up close the devastation it caused. While the storm took a terrible human and financial toll, it helped bring about a change in thinking. Decision-makers realized that the city needed to be better equipped to deal with climate change, and interest has surged in both resilient ways of building and ways of reducing embodied carbon in construction projects.
Sean describes a range of Skanska projects that factor in potential extreme weather events. These include the recently completed East Midtown Greenway Project, which was built above the 100-year floodplain. In the Rockaway Boardwalk Project in Queens, we replaced five miles (8 kilometers) of boardwalk demolished by Hurricane Sandy. The new concrete boardwalk is a full three feet (0.9 meters) higher and has high-resiliency features like steel reinforced pile caps.
Sean believes the way ahead is for the construction sector to inform clients about the need for resiliency, and to communicate, educate, plan and partner to bring it about.
Role of insurance
When property is destroyed or damaged in extreme weather, owners often rely on insurance payouts to rebuild. IF’s Philip Thörn says that while properties in the Nordics are generally well insured against natural catastrophes, in wider Europe and parts of North America, there is a gap of around 30-40 percent between insurance coverage and the cost of damage – with the figure approaching 100 percent in some developing countries.
The increasing risks connected to climate change are leading the insurance industry to reassess the areas in which it is prepared to offer insurance. Insurers and the reinsurers who underwrite their policies are pulling out of high-risk locations. This risks people and companies ending up with stranded assets that they can’t sell because of climate risk and cannot insure.
One way insurers are supporting businesses and homeowners is by providing risk assessments that help them understand potential threats and better manage crises when they occur.
Philip also emphasizes the importance of both mitigation and adaptation to global climate change. In the Nordics, he stresses the central role of local governments in proactively protecting their communities.
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