More flooding, more losses. That’s the message of a new climate change report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. By 2100, up to 45% more of the U.S. will be at risk from flooding—bad news for home-owners and taxpayers (in other words, everyone).
The report looks at the future of the National Flood Insurance Program, which requires many homes in Special Flood Hazard Zones—defined as having a 1% chance of major flooding in any year—to be covered by federal insurance. By 2100, FEMA expects the number of these homes to double from about 5.5 million today to 11.2 million.
FEMA attributes 70% of the increase to climate change, and expects the number of NFIP insurance policies to rise by 80% to 100% by 2100, depending on whether a given area is next to a river or on a coast. Premiums will increase by 50% to 90%, it says, assuming the charges meet the cost of higher pay-outs. In dollar-terms, that’s an increase in premiums from about $3.2 billion now to $11.2 billion in 2100.
Take a look at the map in the areas where FEMA expects to see the highest increase in Special Flood Hazard Zones. The report says the Northwest and Great Lakes regions may see the greatest increases in river-related designations; the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coasts are likely to see the greatest increase in coastal ones.
The looming question is whether the Flood Insurance Program really will cover the future losses. Recent disasters cast that into doubt: during both Katrina and Sandy, FEMA went billions into debt to cover the damages. Either FEMA will have to win more money from taxpayers, or the program will be forced to jack up premiums to exceptionally high levels.
The report isn’t FEMA’s first about climate change. In 2011, the agency noted that global warming is likely to intensify hurricanes, lead to more common droughts and floods, and put a particular burden on the elderly (from extreme heat).
It’s not like we haven’t been warned.