Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Increasing stress on disaster-risk finance due to large floods

Abstract

Recent major flood disasters have shown that single extreme events can affect multiple countries simultaneously1,2,3, which puts high pressure on trans-national risk reduction and risk transfer mechanisms4,5,6. So far, little is known about such flood hazard interdependencies across regions7,8 and the corresponding joint risks at regional to continental scales1,9. Reliable information on correlated loss probabilities is crucial for developing robust insurance schemes5 and public adaptation funds10, and for enhancing our understanding of climate change impacts9,11,12. Here we show that extreme discharges are strongly correlated across European river basins. We present probabilistic trends in continental flood risk, and demonstrate that observed extreme flood losses could more than double in frequency by 2050 under future climate change and socio-economic development. We suggest that risk management for these increasing losses is largely feasible, and we demonstrate that risk can be shared by expanding risk transfer financing, reduced by investing in flood protection, or absorbed by enhanced solidarity between countries. We conclude that these measures have vastly different efficiency, equity and acceptability implications, which need to be taken into account in broader consultation, for which our analysis provides a basis.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Correlations of monthly peak discharges between basins in Europe.
Figure 2: Probabilistic projections of flood losses separated by financing source.
Figure 3: Options for loss sharing and risk reduction.

References

  1. Becker, A. & Grünewald, U. Flood risk in central Europe. Science 300, 1099–1099 (2003).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Wake, B. Flooding costs. Nature Clim. Change 3, 778 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Kundzewicz, Z. W., Pińskwar, I. & Brakenridge, G. R. Large floods in Europe, 1985–2009. Hydrol. Sci. J. 58, 1–7 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Michel-Kerjan, E. & Kunreuther, H. Redesigning flood insurance. Science 333, 408–409 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Mills, E. Insurance in a climate of change. Science 309, 1040–1044 (2005).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Bouwer, L. M., Crompton, R. P., Faust, E., Höppe, P. & Pielke, R. A. Jr Confronting disaster losses. Science 318, 753 (2007).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Uhlemann, S., Thieken, A. H. & Merz, B. A consistent set of trans-basin floods in Germany between 1952–2002. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 14, 1277–1295 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Prudhomme, C. & Genevier, M. Can atmospheric circulation be linked to flooding in Europe?. Hydrol. Process. 25, 1180–1190 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Knox, J. C. Large increases in flood magnitude in response to modest changes in climate. Nature 361, 430–432 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Hochrainer, S., Linnerooth-Bayer, J. & Mechler, R. The European Union Solidarity Fund. Mitigation Adapt. Strat. Glob. Change 15, 797–810 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Allen, M. R. Liability for climate change. Nature 421, 891–892 (2003).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Kundzewicz, Z. W. et al. Flood risk and climate change—global and regional perspectives. Hydrol. Sci. J. 59, 1–28 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Lavers, D. A. et al. Future changes in atmospheric rivers and their implications for winter flooding in Britain. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 034010 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Ward, P. J., Eisner, S., Flörke, M., Dettinger, M. D. & Kummu, M. Annual flood sensitivities to El Niño Southern Oscillation at the global scale. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 18, 47–66 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Munich Re, Munich Reinsurance Company Geo Risks Research, NatCatSERVICE Database. (2013)

  16. Jongman, B., Ward, P. J. & Aerts, J. C. J. H. Global exposure to river and coastal flooding: Long term trends and changes. Glob. Environ. Change 22, 823–835 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Milly, P. C. D., Wetherald, R., Dunne, K. A. & Delworth, T. L. Increasing risk of great floods in a changing climate. Nature 415, 514–517 (2002).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. IPCC, in Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (eds Field, C. B.et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Mechler, R., Hochrainer, S., Aaheim, A., Salen, H. & Wreford, A. Modelling economic impacts and adaptation to extreme events: Insights from European case studies. Mitigation Adapt. Strat. Glob. Change 15, 737–762 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. van Renssen, S. EU adaptation policy sputters and starts. Nature Clim. Change 3, 614–615 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Botzen, W. J. W. Managing Extreme Climate Change Risks through Insurance (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  22. Ward, P. J. et al. Assessing flood risk at the global scale: Model setup, results, and sensitivity. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 044019 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hirabayashi, et al. Global flood risk under climate change. Nature Clim. Change 3, 816–821 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Rojas, R., Feyen, L. & Watkiss, P. Climate change and river floods in the European Union: Socio-economic consequences and the costs and benefits of adaptation. Glob. Environ. Change 23, 1737–1751 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Glaser, R. et al. The variability of European floods since AD 1500. Clim. Change 101, 235–256 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Camuffo, D., Sturaro, G. & Benito, G. in Palaeofloods and Climatic Variability: Applications in Flood Risk Management (eds Thorndycraft, V. R., Benito, G., Barriendos, M. & Llasat, M. C.) 295–300 (CSIC-CCM, 2003).

    Google Scholar 

  27. Feyen, L., Dankers, R., Bódis, K., Salamon, P. & Barredo, J. I. Fluvial flood risk in Europe in present and future climates. Clim. Change 112, 47–62 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Hallegatte, S., Green, C., Nicholls, R. J. & Corfee-Morlot, J. Future flood losses in major coastal cities. Nature Clim. Change 3, 802–806 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Palmer, L. Providing aid before climate disasters strike. Nature Clim. Change 3, 857–858 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. van der Knijff, J., Younis, J. & de Roo, A. LISFLOOD: A GIS-based distributed model for river basin scale water balance and flood simulation International. J. Geogr. Inform. Sci. 24, 189–212 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the European Commission through the ENHANCE project (grant agreement number 308438). P.J.W. and W.J.W.B. received additional financial support from VENI grants from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). We are grateful to Munich Reinsurance Company for supplying data on flood losses from their NatCatSERVICE database.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

B.J. and P.J.W. were responsible for developing the protection standards methodology. S.H-S., G.P. and B.J. developed the probabilistic upscaling approach. B.J. and S.H-S. computed the financing distributions and adaptation scenarios. R.R. undertook the hydrological modelling and discharge correlation analysis. L.F. was primary responsible for modelling of potential damage. All authors, including J.C.J.H.A., L.M.B, R.M. and W.J.W.B., were involved in the conception and planning of the methods and analyses, and in the writing of the paper.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Brenden Jongman or Rodrigo Rojas.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Jongman, B., Hochrainer-Stigler, S., Feyen, L. et al. Increasing stress on disaster-risk finance due to large floods. Nature Clim Change 4, 264–268 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2124

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2124

This article is cited by

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing