The UK must get real about the increased threat of fire damage originating from global warming

By Jon Guy

As thousands of UK holidaymakers seek to flee the Greek island of Rhodes with wildfires continuing to threaten the island, insurers in the UK have been told they need to prepare for similar risks.

Jon Guy

Jon Guy

Law firm RPC has this week issued the warning, with partner Lucy Dyson, explaining: “Climate change and the rising risk of wildfires are having a huge impact across the world, particularly in southern Europe with the current devastating situation affecting Rhodes and now Corfu.

“Wildfires this summer have also severely affected Canada and the United States. Some homeowners have been told their properties are no longer insurable and some insurers are pulling out of fire-prone areas altogether.

“The wildfires in California were a primary reason behind Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) filing for bankruptcy in 2019, after the company came under pressure from billions of dollars in claims, following allegations that poorly maintained equipment had contributed to the start of wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

“In the UK we don’t have the same scale of open land that wildfires could rip through, but we are still at risk, with that risk rising as heatwaves become a more regular and sustained occurrence.”

Face the music

It seems the threat in the UK may well be centred on energy and industrial assets, but RPC says the country needs to be better prepared for a dry summer, high temperatures and the wildfire threat those bring.

During last year’s heatwave, when temperatures breached the 40°C barrier, fire services were called out to fight a number of sizable wildfires across the UK.

It seems that north western Europe is seeing it temperatures rise faster than any other regions in the world, albeit from a lower base than Africa, Asia and South America.

Dire warnings continue over the impact of climate change, with flood and high temperatures seen as the biggest tangible changes to the region’s weather patterns.

The past three weeks have brought the threat of heatwaves into stark reality and while Southern Europe still seems a world away from the UK, clearly the team at RPC believe that the UK is no longer immune to the risks that extended high temperatures can bring.

They may well have a point, given that the Met Office said last month was the hottest June since records began.

According to provisional Met Office figures, the average mean temperature of 15.8°C for June 2023 in the UK was the highest in a series since 1884. It eclipsed the previous record by 0.9°C, while the previous top three Junes were separated by just 0.1°C.

For insurers, the question is how big will the threat be in the years to come – and how large is the appetite to provide cover?