Climate change insurance research center launches Floods, wildfires, heat waves and hurricanes cause billions of dollars of property damage each year. Can federal climate scientists help the insurance industry keep up?

Insurance firms need more climate change information. Scientists say they can help

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Climate change causes billions of dollars in damage every year in the United States. Now federal scientists have a plan to help insurance companies that are on the hook for that damage. NPR's Rebecca Hersher has this report.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Last year, wildfires, floods, hurricanes and other climate-driven disasters caused at least $175 billion of damage in the U.S. Roy Wright leads the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, a think tank.

ROY WRIGHT: More and more Americans are, frankly, having Mother Nature barge through their front door. That change in climate comes at a price.

HERSHER: Which is why if a hurricane destroys your house, you rely on your home insurance to help pay to rebuild. But as climate risks grow, insurance companies are raising their rates or canceling policies altogether, which leaves residents in a tricky and painful situation. If you can't get affordable home insurance, you may have to give up your home. Now federal scientists are hoping they can help. Sarah Kapnick is the lead scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - NOAA - and she says she's been hearing from the insurance industry a lot.

SARAH KAPNICK: In the last few months, they've really come to us saying, we need better information of understanding climate change and its effects on extremes.

HERSHER: Extremes like rainstorms and heat waves that would be virtually impossible without human-caused climate change. NOAA has powerful information about how likely those disasters are now and in the future. NOAA and the National Science Foundation, which funds research at universities, are starting a new research center that will make that data more useful to the insurance industry. The goal, Kapnick says, is to help property insurance companies understand the future. She says a lack of solid climate data is one reason that people who live in high-risk areas are grappling with unaffordable insurance or worse.

KAPNICK: In places where you don't have a lot of data, you either don't know how to price the premium or people stop offering insurance at all.

HERSHER: The trade group, the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, says the new research center will be extremely beneficial. Of course, better data can only go so far. The dangers posed by climate change to homes and to the companies that insure those homes will keep growing unless greenhouse gas emissions rapidly fall.

Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.

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