Climate change and insurance

Believe what you want about climate change, but when the insurance industry starts to take notice you know something is up, including your insurance rates. Insurance is a statistical, probability, game and the insurance companies don’t like to lose. And, we don’t want them too as we need our policies to pay  if disaster strikes. The following article is well timed and well stated.

Learning to adapt as climate changes

Chronicle-Herald. December 2, 2010
By DON FORGERON, President & CEO, Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Having been born and raised in Nova Scotia and, until fairly recently, a life-long resident, it was difficult to see the homes of my former neighbours underwater following torrential rainstorms last month.

Nova Scotians have been experiencing, first hand, the damaging effects of extreme precipitation resulting from our changing climate. The increased frequency and severity of these punishing storms have inspired insurers to take action to find ways to make communities across the country more resilient.

Water is a priority issue for the insurance industry. Heavy rainstorms, melting snow, overflowing rivers and tidal surges are all growing concerns for consumers, businesses and governments, too.

In recent media reports associated with the flooding in western Nova Scotia, Premier Darrell Dexter acknowledged that the province’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure may need to be built to a new standard to withstand more frequent severe weather. He’s right.

Property damage caused by severe weather is becoming more common, and it’s increasingly extensive and expensive. Worldwide, insurers have seen a 2,000 per cent increase in disaster claim payouts since the 1970s. In Canada, home, car and business insurers have seen extreme weather payouts more than double every five to 10 years since the 1980s.

Severe weather is increasingly a fact of life and Canadians would be wise to recognize the need to adapt to it. We need to invest more in public outreach on the issue and create incentives for municipalities and homeowners to make their communities and houses more resilient.

Many Canadian communities are already getting creative when it comes to adapting to the increased potential of future flooding: from using parks for deliberate flood storage, to drawing on vegetation to purify wastewater, to the no-brainer of limiting new construction in areas prone to flooding. We need even more of this type of thinking.
After disasters, insurers help communities rebuild and recover. But insurers also help before disaster strikes. Given the real threat of climate change and the severe weather it brings, insurers are developing strategies and working with government partners to find ways to build more resilient communities and avoid these disasters in the first place.

Infrastructure failure is to blame for most damage resulting from severe weather, and Canada’s sewage and surface water infrastructure is simply unable to cope with such increased precipitation, as Premier Dexter noted in the aftermath of the recent flooding. However, knowing exactly what needs to be fixed, and where and how to allocate scarce resources, can be a problem — one that Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) hopes to help solve. So we are developing a risk-assessment mechanism that will help communities pinpoint vulnerabilities in their water and sewer system infrastructure. This ground-breaking tool will be the first of its kind in the world.

Individual citizens also have a huge role to play in deciding how to adapt to the effects of climate change. A common sight when I was growing up in Cape Breton was the lowly rain barrel, something that’s making a welcome comeback as homeowners recognize its ability to reduce the amount of water that pours into sewers (and basements!) during rainstorms. Other options for homeowners include sewer back-up valves, permeable driveways, and ensuring that lawns are graded away from houses.

While much about the effects of climate change are uncertain, these things are clear: Investments made by communities to improve their infrastructure and introduce mechanisms to control water flow will help to minimize damage when severe weather hits. And homeowners will suffer less damage to their properties and belongings when they introduce adaptive measures.

Through commitment from all stakeholders — the private sector, all levels of government, homeowners and others — we can work together to ensure our communities are resilient in the face of our new climate reality.

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