Climate Change and the Future of Risk

Climate Change and the Future of Risk

June 13, 2017

The risk models that policymakers, insurers and communities rely on to predict the nature and frequency of weather-related disasters are becoming less reliable as climate change advances.  A Wharton School climate risk expert examines how we might adequately, and equitably, prepare for future disasters.

In 2012 Hurricane Sandy caused over $70 billion in damage along the U.S. Atlantic coast, leaving communities in desperate financial condition and pushing the National Flood Insurance Program, already financially stretched by a decade of severe weather-related claims, deeper into debt. In addition, coastal cities like Miami and Norfolk, Virginia now experience regular nuisance flooding, demanding huge investments in protective infrastructure to fend off rising seas.

How will the U.S. pay for infrastructure needed to minimize the impact of future disasters even as population grows in increasingly flood-prone areas?

Howard Kunreuther, Co-Director of the Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses the challenge of balancing support for communities at risk for natural disaster with the economic and political challenges to doing so. He also highlights how human psychology can make it hard for people to grasp the likelihood of future disasters, and the role this has played in pushing the national flood insurance program to the brink of insolvency.

Howard Kunreuther is the James G. Dinan professor of Decision Sciences and Business and Public Policy at the Wharton School. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a Distinguished Fellow of the Society for Risk Analysis. He has served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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