A data driven approach is needed to adequately assess current and future European wildfire risk amid expectations climate change will further amplify the risk, attendees heard at a symposium hosted by Guy Carpenter.

Portugal fire

Jessica Turner, managing director for catastrophe advisory, international, at the reinsurance broker, said there was an increasing need for insurers to quantify the impacts of climate change on perils such as wildfire.

But the reinsurance broker, which recently launched its GC Wildfire Risk Score, said there remains a need for modelling tools which can better assess losses and accumulations related to European wildfire risk. 

Turner said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 6th assessment report, as well as numerous attribution studies, had highlighted that fire danger is increasing in some parts of the world, including Southern Europe. 

While different climate models presented different views on future climate patterns, Turner said the general consensus was that regions already experiencing wet winters and dry summers – the conditions that fuel wildfire activity – will see existing patterns amplified.  

That would point to increased probability in several European countries – Spain, Turkey, Greece, Italy and Southern France – where fires are already frequent and intense.

“Land use changes over the last decades have also contributed to increased risk. Threats from wildfire must be managed, reduced and adapted to, and that endeavour can be aided by data-driven tools to identify areas of current and future risk,” Turner said. 

The broker’s wildfire risk score incorporates multiple data layers including fire weather, vegetation, topography and building structure to create a high-resolution data layer that differentiates between six wildfire risk categories ranging from ‘very low’ to ‘extreme’. Various climate scenarios can be applied to model the risk score. 

Ruth Lux, head of public sector for Europe, Middle East & Africa at Guy Carpenter, said the large wildfire losses in recent years had prompted insurers to re-examine their approach to the peril.

“Further work is needed to better prepare, adapt and build resilience to wildfire risk in the context of climate change to mitigate against an emerging financial protection gap,” she said. 

“Innovative solutions are already being developed and the private insurance sector is well-placed to help promote risk mitigation strategies and actively engage policyholders through education and incentives to lower their risks.”

During the symposium José Leão, head of reinsurance at Ageas Portugal, highlighted the importance of developing wildfire models for Southern Europe to better understand and monitor the risk.

“It is important to have access to historical claims to see the trends in economic and insured losses for different countries in order to have a better understanding of the risk. Increasing awareness in society of better management of forests that are owned mainly by private owners and better control and prevention is key to improving the peril,” Leão said.

“And with [extreme] weather conditions [due to] climate change, we really need to focus on all of these topics – prevention, protection – to protect people, houses, assets and nature.”

The importance of natural solutions to wildfire risk management was also highlighted.  

Sydney Chamberlin, climate policy associate at The Nature Conservancy, described nature-based strategies as tools immediately available to help address the threat of climate change. 

“Science suggests that natural systems can strengthen our resilience against climate-enhanced disasters like floods, extreme heat, and wildfire and help us mitigate climate change at the same time,” she said. 

“The stewardship and restoration of our forests, wetlands, grasslands, and open space can help protect communities from storm surges, reduce wildfire severity and cool our neighborhoods, while sequestering carbon.”