Innovative climate change adaptation strategies needed: IBC

Alberta first province to release a climate change action plan

Severe weather is affecting the province of Alberta more than the rest of Canada, said Don Forgeron, president and CEO of Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), in a speech delivered today.

Forgeron told an audience of Calgary business and government leaders that increasingly severe weather is jeopardizing lives, property and livelihoods across the country and he said Alberta is getting hit harder than the rest of Canada.

Read: 2012 severe weather causes $730 million in damage in Alberta alone

In the four years from 2009 to 2012, when insured losses in Canada from natural catastrophes were pegged at, or near, a billion dollars a year, Alberta suffered the most with an average of $673 million a year in insured losses from natural catastrophes.  Some examples include:

  • In 2012, hail storms wreaked havoc across the province causing $530 million dollars in damage.
  • In November 2011, officials had to shut down the downtown core of Calgary during high winds.
  • Also in 2011, fire ravaged the community of Slave Lake with losses pegged at over $700 million.
  • In 2010, a hailstorm pounded Calgary with hailstones almost two inches large. The storm registered damage claims totaling $500 million dollars.

Read: Alberta storms result in more than $200 million in insured damages

“Insured losses in Alberta have eclipsed those in other provinces–reaching hundreds of millions of dollars each year,” Mr. Forgeron said.  “And we can’t forget that behind these statistics, are stories of injured residents, severely damaged and flooded houses, trees uprooted, cars smashed, businesses interrupted, roads washed out and communities reeling.

“Our industry needed to understand this growing problem and what it means for the various regions of Canada,” he said. “So IBC commissioned a comprehensive study, authored by Dr. Gordon McBean, an internationally recognized climatologist and Nobel Prize-winner. From Dr. McBean we learned that our situation is worsening.”

Dr. McBean’s study looked at trends in weather patterns and projected ahead to 2050. The study found that Calgary could experience water scarcity in the near future and water levels in the Bow and Elbow rivers are projected to decline.

Read: 20 recommendations to fight climate change

“In the past 100 years, drought in Alberta has been the most common cause of disasters.  In fact, there have been 35 droughts here between 1900 and 2005,” Forgeron said.

“Now, I’m not here to talk about the cause of this looming problem. My industry leaves that debate to others,” he said. “What we know, and what we have made a priority – is that the need for innovative adaptation strategies is clear.”

Forgeron praised the Alberta government for becoming the first province to release a climate change action plan in 2002 and challenged the entire province to continue to carry this banner of leadership.  “Today, Calgary is looking at its adaption response – and insurers are delighted,” he said. “Adaptation is realistic, pragmatic, global and forward thinking – and a responsibility that Calgarians and Albertans are ready for,” he added.

The IBC believes that adaptive measures should focus on municipal infrastructure, as aging pipes and sewers are unable to cope with increasing precipitation. In response, IBC is developing a municipal risk assessment tool, said Forgeron, that will allow municipalities to identify their greatest sewer and storm water vulnerabilities.

Forgeron concluded by saying, “Insurers, governments, businesses and consumers can, and must, work together to create a strong culture of adaptation. And we must do it community by community.  All across Canada.”

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