Urgent action is needed to preserve wetlands in order to reduce possible debilitating loss from flooding caused by climate change, the Insurance Bureau of Canada says.
A new IBC report urges communities to consider natural or “green” infrastructure to limit their flood risk. IBC collaborated with the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation (Intact Centre) and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) in this initiative to help communities address their economic risk associated with climate change.
“Nature conservation and climate resilience go hand in hand,” said Craig Stewart, Vice-President, Federal Affairs, IBC. “This report emphasizes that coastal and inland flood risk can be reduced by conserving and restoring natural infrastructure, such as wetlands and coastal marshes, and that the return on investment of natural infrastructure can at times exceed that of built infrastructure, such as dams and dikes. Nature can be our best friend in lowering the risk of exposed communities.”
The IBC study was released on the heels of an Ontario Streams report that says almost eight square kilometres of wetlands were lost from the Lake Simcoe Watershed between 1999-2002 and 2013-2016. The chief causes for loss of wetlands were agriculture and development. For details, see the article in the 2018 Autumn issue of Lake Simcoe Living at https://www.lakesimcoeliving.com/issues/2018-autumn/#p=8
In 2016, in response to consumer needs, the property and casualty insurance industry began offering homeowners products that cover overland flooding. Meanwhile, governments are shifting the financial risk of floods from taxpayers to homeowners and private insurers. Currently, for every dollar of losses borne by insurers in Canada, three to four dollars are absorbed by governments and home and business owners.
“Property and casualty insurance payouts from extreme weather have more than doubled every five to 10 years since the 1980s,” said Stewart.
“Coastal and inland flood risk is rising across the country as a result of extreme weather events driven by climate change. Insurance companies are on the frontlines of helping Canadians cope with the impacts of the changing climate, paying out over $1.5 billion in the last 12 months alone.”
As a general rule, the most cost-effective means to mitigate flooding using natural infrastructure are to:
- retain what you have
- restore what you’ve lost and
- build what you must.
The use of natural infrastructure for climate adaptation is still a novel approach. Accordingly, the documentation, monitoring and reporting of the actual benefits versus the actual costs incurred from the time of project implementation is critical for further driving the “value for money” business case for natural infrastructure investments.
“Natural infrastructure, such as an inland or coastal wetland, is not mere decoration,” says Dr. Blair Feltmate, Head, Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation. “It limits flood risk and the downstream discharge of pollutants, while at the same time supporting biodiversity. In response, every attempt should be made to retain and restore natural infrastructure today, if we are to avoid unconscionable economic, social and environmental losses tomorrow.”
Anne Hammill, Director of the Resilience Program at IISD, said: “Natural infrastructure can be more cost efficient than built infrastructure. This is critical because with climate change, more frequent and intense weather events are becoming the new normal and leading to escalating costs. Natural infrastructure can offset millions in spending and offer multiple environmental and social benefits compared to traditional grey infrastructure systems.”