I recently attended a GLOBE Capital event in Toronto that brought together leaders from both the public and private sectors to explore and discuss how to mobilize and accelerate the capital necessary to transform our economy. It was a great event that tackled key issues heads-on.
In particular, I participated on a climate adaptation panel that explored whether or not the level of investment and speed of deployment to mitigate climate change risks at federal and provincial levels is adequate to protect Canadians. This is a very complex and loaded topic, but one I am passionate about as it is central to the future of this country and the quality of life for generations to come.
As we've seen globally, and particularly in Canada, the cost of disaster is increasing. According to our latest sigma report, last year economic losses from natural catastrophes nearly doubled to $175bn, and insured losses jumped to $54bn from $38bn a year before. Both numbers were at their highest since 2012. 2016 was the hottest year on record in Canada, we experienced the largest wildfire in recorded history and sea levels have been steadily rising, increasing the threat of storm surges for coastal areas. Furthermore, this year started off with devastating floods in the eastern provinces. Playing behind these seemingly unrelated statistics and natural phenomena are complex and intertwined global ecosystem dynamics, as the vast majority of climate scientists would concur.
At the conference, Doug Turnbull of DBRS started the panel by asking if Canada is doing enough to tackle climate change. The truthful answer is "no," but the fact of the matter is, no one is. Relatively speaking, Canada is making progress and stands in front of an epochal opportunity to step forward and lead the charge with like-minded global leaders. But more can still be done especially in harmonizing efforts, fearless prioritization through a formal country risk framework, relentless execution of agreed actions and impact measurement.
I am often asked whether we can afford to take the many steps necessary to protect ourselves against the impact of changing climate. Some are costly from a financial perspective and some would require a complete change to our ways of living. But my response is always the same: can we afford not to? At the rate the global population is growing and urbanization is spreading - we are up for some pretty dire choices if we don't adapt fast.
So what is Canada doing?
In 1970 the Canadian federal government established, funded and has since disbursed $3.4bn through its Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) to absorb some of the costs of returning infrastructure and personal property to pre-disaster condition following large scale natural disasters. Unfortunately, in the last ten years actual disasters have largely exceeded the means of the DFAA, with flood becoming a much more recurrent and damaging peril than any time before. In response, in 2015, the National Disaster Mitigation Program (NDMP) was launched, which has promise to help the country make progress on the path of sustainable flood risk mitigation and prevention by building safer and more resilient communities. As part of its 2017 budget, Canada also announced in March its intent to invest $2bn over 11 years for a new Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund under its Clean Growth Economy agenda, to support the national, provincial and municipal infrastructure required to deal with climate change. Furthermore, under the ensign of the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, Canada's federal government in partnership with the provinces and territories, has been making healthy strides on its strategy of establishing a foundational framework that embeds climate considerations in all facets of government decisions. All such efforts undoubtedly underscore Canada's awareness of the growing magnitude of exposure the country faces and the need for actions.
On the municipal side, we've seen encouraging signs from many cities that are spotlighting these topics. On a larger scale, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver are working together under the 100 Resilient Cities program to share best practices and reduce their exposure over time in a very strategic way. On a smaller scale, following loss experiences, local communities like Burlington, ON and Winnipeg, MB with its Red River floodway have demonstrated the political resolve to invest in adaptation pilots and major infrastructural projects to ensure their citizens are better protected against the perils suffered in the past.
Canada clearly has the intellectual power, the political will and the financial strength – so how do we emerge as a leader in action on the global climate change agenda? I believe we need to do the following to continue our upward trajectory:
* Close the data, risk mapping and models gaps, all of which the scientific method requires in order to develop the technical recommendations that are used to underpin political decisions
* Start programmatically measuring the outcomes of programs that have been implemented, as well as adapting the process as part of a continuous improvement practice
* Be transparent to private citizens on the hazards their homes are exposed to so they are empowered to protect themselves in the most cost effective way and therefore are made more accountable to own their risks
* Establish ex-ante funding mechanisms that allow for some reallocation of the financial burden post events to professional risk takers, so to alleviate the pressure on governments and tax payers
Time on the climate change clock cannot be reversed - we can slow its development and slowly remediate the damages of the past but the next decades will demand adaptation as much as future risk mitigation strategies. We clearly still have a long way to go to fully address climate change and further climate-resilient development. Progress never happens overnight. But conversations like the GLOBE Capital panel put the spotlight on pragmatic areas of intervention and hopefully lead to action. I was happy to be part of it and intend to remain engaged in this promising dialogue.
Category: Climate/natural disasters: Climate change, Resilience