A €1bn insurance bill could help us take climate change seriously

It is only a matter of time before a huge storm surge hits the country, an academic says

Another week, another quite terrifying prediction on the impact of climate change on the geography of Ireland.

This time, the source was Maynooth University's Prof John Sweeney, an eminent thinker in this increasingly alarming area. Prof Sweeney came at the topic earlier this week through the prism of insurance, an approach that might make business ears prick up more than worthy arguments focusing on environmental decline.

It is only a matter of time, Prof Sweeney told an audience in Dublin, before a 3m storm surge will hit the country. We have been lucky to avoid this until now, he said, pointing to fortuitous tides and favourable depression patterns.

And what happens when it does hit? Big problems, and very visible ones, according to the academic. A 3m surge could quickly lead to a cool €1 billion in insurance claims, he said. Yes, you read that correctly – €1 billion, a sum that would ultimately be deducted from the pockets of businesses and consumers, while also all but eliminating the chances of many of sourcing flood insurance at any point in the future.

Is that enough for us to sit up and take notice? How about if it is accompanied by a handful of Dublin's most loved and most historic buildings disappearing under water – are we ready to see the Custom House and the Four Courts fade from sight? It sounds dramatic, but Prof Sweeney's fellow Maynooth climate specialist Prof Peter Thorne recently predicted exactly this.

Businesses and individuals owning property in coastal areas could understandably be feeling a little itchy, and will doubtless be particularly interested in discussing the issue with politicians who call to their door during any imminent election campaign. And there should be no excuse for shoddy responses, with councils in coastal areas all required to be on top of the issue as part of a national initiative.

All four local authorities in Dublin, for example, have detailed climate action plans that they have submitted to the Minister for Climate Action, Richard Bruton. These plans are meant to cover how extreme weather events such as flooding could be expected to affect individual areas, and to set out environmental targets. Where consumers and businesses come in is in staying on top of these commitments and seeing how they can play their part. And if concern over the environment doesn't drive this, maybe worries over a €1 billion insurance bill might do the trick.