Responses to Climate change-related weather disasters in 2017

Photo from B.C. Wildfire Service

The summer of 2017 has seen unprecedented forest fires, heat waves, floods and hurricanes around the world, with flooding and forest fires in Canada.  In response, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced the launch of an advisory Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience on August 29, to be chaired by Dr. Blair Feltmate, Head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo. The Expert Panel will be composed of  academic, private sector, government, non-government, and Indigenous representatives. CBC summarizes the initiative here .

On September 1, the Insurance Bureau of Canada issued a press release that estimated more than $223 million in insured damage from two storm and flooding events in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec in May. An Internal Review of the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements, released in the Spring of 2017, states that the average annual federal share of provincial/territorial response and recovery costs has increased from C$10 million from 1970 to 1995, to $100 million from 1996 to 2010, to $360 million from 2011 to 2016, with the majority of costs caused by flooding.

Before either Hurricanes Harvey or Irma, the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric  Administration (NOAA) stated, “In 2017 (as of July 7), there have been 9 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. These events included 2 flooding events, 1 freeze event, and 6 severe storm events. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 57 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted.”

At the end of August, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce released a report which states:  “The average natural disaster costs the economy C$130 billion and lowers GDP by approximately 2%….. On average, it is estimated that natural disasters increase public budget deficits by 25%.”   Building Better: Setting the 2017 Ontario Infrastructure Plan up for success urges significant investment, stating:  “Research shows that investment in infrastructure, such as roads, transportation, communication, utilities and more, have resulted in lowered business costs and increased labour productivity. It is estimated that for every $1 billion in infrastructure spending, 16,700 jobs are supported for one year and the GDP sees a $1.14 billion increase.”

In June, the City of  Toronto appointed its first Chief Resilience Officer, whose job it is to prepare for catastrophic events and other stresses, with a focus on social issues such as housing and transit, building on existing programs under the city’s climate resilience and TransformTO initiatives.  The Chief Resilience Officer position is funded by  100 Resilient Cities, an international network whose website houses a collection of Urban Resilience plans from around the world.

And for the last word on this catastrophic summer, read Bill McKibben’s opinion in The Guardian, “Stop Talking Right Now about the threat of Climate Change. It’s Here; It’s Happening“.

Buildings and Infrastructure: the state of Canadian adaptation to climate change

The National Infrastructure and Buildings Climate Change Adaptation State of Play Report  was released on May 18, providing a gold mine of detail about  the current Canadian system of climate change adaptation, and how it  affects water infrastructure, transportation systems, telecommunications, and buildings (both private housing and commercial and  multi-unit buildings such as hospitals and penitentiaries).

fort_mcmurray-fireReflecting  the strong influence of insurance concerns in the report, it provides a  catalogue, with damage estimates and many photographs, of recent natural disasters, including the Calgary and Toronto floods in 2013, the Fort McMurray fire, as far back as the Eastern Canada ice storms of 1998.  The report identifies a wide range of barriers and problems to adaptation progress, but also provides case studies of innovative initiatives, and compiles a list of 62 “opportunities or next steps”  for those identified as the key actors – all levels of government,  private companies, professional associations, and citizens.  Recommendations  reflect an understanding of the need for more climate change training and professional education for engineers, consultants, and the insurance industry, and calls on private companies to emphasize and “Better integrate climate change considerations into organizational planning, decision-making and risk management processes.”

Appendices include an extensive bibliography; a table of national and provincial standards and regulations (e.g. for stormwater management); climate risks, and others.  The final appendix presents case studies of innovative initiatives, including  Toronto Hydro Electrical Distribution Infrastructure Case Study ; British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Provincial Highway Infrastructure Case Study; City of Castlegar Stormwater Infrastructure Case Study (B.C.); Municipality of the District of Shelburne Wastewater Treatment Plant Case Study ; Elm Drive: Low Impact Development Demonstration Site Case Study (Toronto); Fraser Health’s Climate Resilience and Adaptation Program (B.C.); Linking Climate with Water Infrastructure and Social Vulnerabilities Credit Valley Conservation (Ontario).

The report was prepared by Amec Foster Wheeler Environment & Infrastructure of Burlington, Ontario, in collaboration with the Credit Valley Conservation Authority of Mississauga, for the  Infrastructure and Buildings Working Group (IBWG) – a joint enterprise of  the Institute for Catastrophic Loss and Engineers Canada.  It will be one of many inputs to the Infrastructure and Buildings Working Group of Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation Platform  in their discussions of their work plan for the next four years.

Millions of people, Trillions of dollars at risk from coastal floods

A report on May 16 from an agency of the World Bank, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), says that cities around the world are failing to plan for fast-increasing risks from extreme weather and other hazards, and by 2050, 1.3 billion people and $158 trillion in assets will be threatened by worsening river and coastal floods alone.  Losses in 136 coastal cities are projected to rise from $6 billion a year in 2010 to $1 trillion a year by 2070.  The report, The Making of a Riskier Future: How Our Decisions are Shaping the Future of Disaster Risk is here  ; a summary from Thomson Reuters is here   .  A separate report, also in May, from Christian Aid, ranks cities with the most to lose from coastal flooding.  Topping their list: Calcutta (14 million people), Mumbai (11.4 million) and Dhaka (11.1 million).  Miami, with 4.8   million people, ranks 9th in population but tops the ranking by exposed assets in 2070 , with  $3.5 trillion. New York City ranks 3rd in exposed assets with $2.1tn.  The report also discusses the risks to the city of London, U.K.  Read Act Now or Pay Later: Protecting a billion people in climate-threatened coastal cities    .

Coastal Cities at Risk from Climate Change: Vancouver, New York

According to an article published in Nature Climate Change online in mid-August, Vancouver ranks 11th amongst the world’s 136 large coastal cities at risk of flooding, as measured by annual average losses of people or “assets”. Most at risk: Guangzhou, Miami, New York, New Orleans, and Mumbai. The article is part of an ongoing OECD project to explore the policy implications of flood risks due to climate change and economic development. Future Flood Losses in Major Coastal Cities is available for purchase (with a brief free preview) at the Nature Climate Change website at: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1979.html#access. Also see a summary at the OECD website at: http://www.oecd.org/env/resources/future-flood-losses-in-major-coastal-cities.htm

Vancouver adopted a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in July 2012 to guide building and maintenance of streets, sewers, building infrastructure, parks and greenspaces. See http://vancouver.ca/green-vancouver/climate-change-adaptation-strategy.aspx for links to the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, plus implementation reports for 2011-2012, and 2012-2013.

In June 2013, New York unveiled a plan in response to Superstorm Sandy, which proposes more than 250 initiatives, costed at $19.5 billion – most of which would be spent to repair homes and streets damaged by Sandy, retrofit hospitals and nursing homes, elevate electrical infrastructure, improve ferry and subway systems and fix drinking water systems. See A Stronger, More Resilient New York, at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/sirr/html/report/report.shtml