Gov. Ned Lamont and Insurance Commissioner Andrew Mais. Credit: Mike Savino photo

Insurance executives urged Gov. Ned Lamont Friday to take action on climate change, such as implementing mitigation measures to reduce the risk of extreme weather. 

Officials from The Hartford and Travelers told Lamont that the insurance industry has been researching climate change for years and has research to help better prepare the state. 

“We can build a home that can withstand a Category 3 hurricane,” Eric Nelson, senior vice president of catastrophic risk management for Travelers, said Friday. 

Lamont organized the conversation to get advice from the insurance industry because the state has experienced wild swings in weather over the last year. 

State Insurance Commissioner Andrew Mais noted the state experienced unseasonable freezing temperatures in May, then a drought followed by the wettest July on record. He also said the U.S. saw its hottest month on record in June, only to break that mark in July and, according to forecasts, be on pace to do so again this month. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said water temperatures off some locations in Florida have reached or exceeded 95 degrees this summer. 

“We can’t wait, we have to act,” Mais said. 

Lamont said he wanted to know how to best use state and federal funds, asking Nelson and The Hartford Chief Underwriting Officer Ross Fisher for advice on the best investments. 

Fisher said the state can focus on mitigation efforts, especially trying to fortify homes to be more resilient against severe weather. 

He noted there were 18 storms in 2022 nationwide that caused at least $1 billion in damage. That increase has caused total economic losses from storms to go from $288 billion in the 1990s to projections as high as $1.3 billion for the current decade. 

“The research is clear that investing in mitigation and adaptation can reduce the cost of disaster response,” he said. 

He encouraged the state to offer grants, low-interest loans and other incentives to encourage property owners and builders to design or retrofit buildings to protect roofs, walls, windows and load-bearing sections. 

Nelson agreed, saying severe weather isn’t the only reason for the rise in damages caused by storms. 

He noted newly constructed homes are bigger than they were decades ago. People are also moving into areas that are more vulnerable to floods, fires and other extreme events. 

The U.S. population grew by roughly 33% from 1990 to 2020, but Nelson said the population in coastal areas nationwide jumped by 59%. 

That trend accelerated since the pandemic: twice as many people moved into the most flood-prone areas in 2021 and 2022 as did the prior two years, according to real estate website Redfin. 

Nelson said that means policy makers need to consider this when planning land use. 

They also need to think about building codes that require more resilient buildings, he said, noting prices for land, materials and labor have pushed building costs up 40% since 2020. 

“If anybody’s tried to do reconstruction on your house, you’re probably in for a little bit of sticker shock,” Nelson said. 

Lamont and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes said they want to continue working with insurance industry experts as funding for improvements becomes available. 

“We can use the time that we have now to make the right investments to better protect against these impacts,” Dyke said. 

Despite the weather swings and extreme events, Mais said he has not seen property insurance companies flee the state the same way they have in California and Florida. 

“We have seen no indication that there will be a wholesale departure from the market,” he said. 

Nelson agreed, saying insurance companies view Connecticut as a competitive and healthy market. He said several factors have led to the problems in California and Florida, including an increase of severe storms in Florida and wildfires in California. 

Reinsurance prices in both states have also skyrocketed, but Mais said that’s not happening in Connecticut.