Stories—

Karl Mallon: Advocacy, Disclosure and Disruption

Karl Mallon has been working in the climate change policy and technical space for more than 25 years. Mallon currently works in leading roles at Climate Risk, Climate Valuation, and XDI. He specialises in climate change risks to infrastructure, and local government, as well as insurance and other financial industries. Mallon’s work integrates knowledge of science, policy, finance and IT sectors to develop tools for the public, government and industry to inform and improve decision-making. 

Mallon’s Climate Valuation website supports and improves the public’s decision-making capacity by providing accessible reports that integrate a variety of data on sea level, storm and inundation risks. Mallon is Director of Science and Systems at Climate Risk, a consultancy specialising in climate risk and adaptation softwares and the only company dedicated to climate change adaptation in Australia. He is also Director of Science and Engineering at XDI, a consultancy providing integrated climate risk and modelling reports. 

In addition to his work consulting and building the public’s decision-making capacity on climate change, Mallon has also played a leading industry role in the public arena. He has published a range of editorials and articles in the Sydney Morning Herald and other outlets, participated in panels and interviews, as well as provided modelling and submissions to Commonwealth Bank and Productivity Commission reports amongst a variety of others.

In his role, self-described as a ‘disruptor’, Mallon has advocated for the public release of information, data and models available to large insurers and organisations. He has identified a variety of benefits that can be gained through decreasing this information asymmetry between organisations and the public. In his work he has highlighted how such a release would build banks and insurers’ social licence to operate, minimise a significant risk to their business models and serve to build awareness and desire for action amongst the general public – allowing them to better represent their values and concerns in the financial sphere. 

Climate Valuation website 

Climate Valuation is a free, public resource that combines GIS and climate change risk data to provide “an important input to the total information puzzle for home-owners, potential purchasers, lenders and insurers”. The website makes available a number of reporting tools to determine the risk of coastal inundation, its value impact, and an assessment of the ‘why’ of vulnerability as well as potential adaptation options.

When asked why he founded the organisation, Mallon said “Essentially, the landscape was unfair – people were acting in ignorance and they weren’t necessarily being exploited, but they certainly weren’t being looked after”. Climate Valuation seeks to combat this information asymmetry, build public awareness of the financial risks of climate change and in turn give everyday homeowners and property purchases the power to act. 

Example Land Check Report generated using the Climate Valuation website. 

Mallon describes the website as a way to enable citizens to further build their activism around climate change: “we can start to put information into people’s hands so they can make informed decisions. There is nothing greater than a wallet in driving behaviour change”. This is achieved through providing localised modelling data that communicates risk in a highly accessible format while also highlighting ways to minimise vulnerability.

In an interview on ABC Radio National, Mallon highlighted how the Climate Valuation website is being used in conversations with banks to encourage them to provide mortgage options for household adaptation measures – in turn increasing revenue, ensuring long-term ‘insure-ability’ and protecting the interests of homeowners and purchasers.

Karl Mallon and Climate Valuation play a dual role as an information provider and a public advocate. The organisation provides understandable, accessible information on risks, problems and solutions to the public with its various reports. As public advocates, Mallon and Climate Valuation have engaged with financial service providers using their own language and reasoning to work towards a more transparent and egalitarian relationship between industry and the public. 

Homeowners and the insurance industry: Missing actors in the public discourse. 

In 2015, the Productivity Commission released a report on natural disaster funding in Australia. In this report, the Commission identified significant information asymmetry between the public and industry, as well as low participation of insurers in public and household discussions around risk assessment and the impacts of climate change. The Commission found that both insurers and governments should take steps to communicate information around hazards to households along with other initiatives.

Climate Valuation works to disrupt this current knowledge gap and industry status-quo through the provision of risk and hazard information in an accessible format “that an ordinary person can use when they make a decision”. In turn Mallon has highlighted how this may lead the homeowners to rethink valuation, risk and purchasing decisions as well as to agitate for action on climate change with financial service providers.

Mallon has also played a leadership role in industry, advocating for the disclosure of industry data and analysis in public statements and articles. In a 2017 open letter on The Fifth Estate website, Mallon addressed the CEO of the Insurance Council of Australia, challenging the Council to work to break down these information barriers. He highlights how in becoming a part of the public discourse and disseminating information, insurers can “do what needs to be done to support society as it adjusts to climate change and worsening extreme weather”. In an interview, Mallon highlighted how Climate Valuation has maintained the public interest as a priority but also has ‘kept the door open’ to insurers and banks to bring them to the table to obtain the best possible solution for all.

In his work with Climate Valuation and Climate Risk, Mallon has built bridges between expert knowledge and the public, advocating for greater openness, dialogue and collaboration between insurers, banks and their clients. In turn, he has helped to support and to empower consumers in decision making as well as to bring insurers and banks to the table in highlighting the significant benefits of open and egalitarian collaboration.