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Adaptation to what for whom? Case study of insurance as governance in the USA National Flood Insurance Program

Authors: Vanessa Lueck*, Arizona State University
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Global Change, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: climate change, adaptation, insurance, adaptation finance, governance
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Climate change mitigation has been lackluster globally, resulting in significant adaptation needs. Many in the international community are turning to insurance to drive this adaptation. Most of these international calls are for insurance provided through public-private partnerships. Because insurance often functions as governance, the impact can be analyzed through the tools the insurance program uses, what adaptations occur for whom with each tool, and then, tracking where the risk lodges.

The National Flood Insurance Program [NFIP] has been impacting riverine and coastal adaptation for over 50 years. Given the long-term impact of this public-private partnership, the NFIP can shed insight into potential governance challenges and strengths of climate adaptation through international public-private partnership insurance programs. Using an insurance as governance lens I analyze the NFIP and one of its sub-programs to determine how both have been and are driving coastal adaptation.

The findings indicate that due to the predominance of specific insurance tools the costs of the NFIP accrue to the taxpayers and those in lower risk locations, while the benefits accrue to those who inhabit high-risk locations. This questions the ability of insurance to drive climate adaptation. In fact, when compared to the international calls for insurance driven adaptation, the calls appear more similar to a risk protection mechanism for already existing insurance pools than a means to build climate adaptation for the poorest and most climate vulnerable.

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