Insurance as a catalyst for using climate risk information for government planning and decision-making: A framework for analysing drivers and barriers, tested against evidence emerging from Sub-Saharan Africa


This paper investigates the potential catalyst role of insurance in adaptation to climate change.

The authors explore how climate risk information emanating from insurance processes can support a move towards anticipatory climate risk management, which includes loss prevention and adaptation to climate change. They consider and identify the boundaries, conditions and influencing factors for using climate risk information, learning from the experience with climate services. They take these concepts into a developing country context that is characterised by low insurance penetration and a relatively low level of government planning, analysing the problem from the perspective of insurers in South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania.

The analysis offers a new perspective on the catalyst role of insurance by focusing on underpinning political economy factors, particularly incentives and relationships that influence the catalysing process. Overall there appears to be clear scope for a dynamic interaction between insurers and other actors such as governments, planners, property developers, investors, farmers, or individuals where symbiotic use and generation of climate risk information can advance mutual goals such as more effective urban planning or choice and timing of planting crops.

However, that ambition can face many challenges that go beyond availability and suitability of data: these include limited trust, unclear risk ownership or lack of incentives. These can act as barriers to using climate risk information, even if there is motivation, risk-awareness and overall buy-in into the need to manage climate risks.

All three case studies show the importance of sustained engagement and capacity-building for government stakeholders to increase awareness of the role of insurance-related climate risk information and its potential benefits and uses. Importantly, a key consideration when building technical capacity is targeting actors who can make decisions and have the agency to alter processes.

Key points for decision-makers

  • Climate risk information is information that can help decision-makers to adapt to current and future risks associated with both slow-onset climate impacts and extreme climate events.
  • Climate services are provided by transforming and tailoring climate information into products such as projections and economic analyses for different users.
  • The availability of climate risk information remains poor in many parts of the world and continues to be a barrier for action on adaptation and resilience.
  • This study uses survey data and expert discussion followed up with evidence emerging from three case studies from South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania.
  • The case studies provide contrasting contexts: the South Africa example is of an existing but emerging market, with asset owners that have the capacity to act and a city with an established planning system – factors that seem conducive to the use of risk information. In Malawi and Tanzania, insurance coverage is minimal and the balance of barriers, incentives and motivations for use of risk information appears more complex.
  • Overall the motivation to invest in and consider future information appears low.
  • The paper highlights the importance of capacity-building for all stakeholders, in technical areas such as in the operation of Geographical Information System (GIS) technology, but also for decision-makers and planners who are often unclear about risk ownership and need to see demonstrated benefits of anticipatory planning to justify taking action today.

This paper was produced as part of the Future Climate For Africa UMFULA programme, with financial support from the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID).