June 25, 2009
By JENNIFER GRAHAM
The insurance industry is deeply concerned about the escalating costs of climate change. In 2008, the Insurance Bureau of Canada called for better risk-assessment and decision-making tools, sweeping land-use reforms, improved climate smart design and building standards, and better emergency preparedness.
According to a recent assessment, the global economic losses associated with natural disasters increased from just over $50 billion in the 1950s to almost $800 billion in the 1990s, with numbers even higher in the past decade. Lloyds of London predicts flood risk along the Atlantic Coast could increase by 80 per cent by 2030 with a 30-centimetre rise in global sea levels. In January 2000, a storm surge along the Northumberland Strait caused around $1.5 million in damage.
The good news is: We can reduce the costs associated with climate change. The U.S.-based National Institute of Building Sciences calculates that for every dollar spent on mitigating climate change damage, society saves $4 in recovery costs.
Here are five common-sense and cost-effective ways Nova Scotia can reduce the risk and economic impacts associated with climate change in coastal areas, based on findings from Resilient Coasts, A Blueprint for Action prepared by the Heinz Center (an American public policy think thank) and CERES (an international consortium of insurance companies).
1. Identify and fill information gaps so that climate change can be incorporated into decision-making. We need high-definition flood and coastal maps for every municipality, showing the current and future risks to property, infrastructure and coastal ecosystems. Many graduates of Nova Scotia institutions are working on similar projects elsewhere. Let’s bring them home to prepare locally usable climate-change models and maps.
2. Require risk-based land-use planning. Land-use planning can safeguard property and lives, and minimize the cost of repairing damaged infrastructure. We may have to create no-build zones in hazardous or flood-prone areas instead of continuing to issue permits for new development in unsuitable areas, such as inherently unstable barrier beaches, eroding drumlins, or tidal marshes.
3. Design infrastructure and building code standards to meet future risk. Implementing new standards and approaches for coastal infrastructure is another local job-creation opportunity. A group of middle school students from Maine recently won an innovation award for a movable shoreline-stabilizing structure made from recycled tires that traps sediments and establishes a natural vegetated buffer zone. If they can do it, so can we!
4. Strengthen coastal ecosystems as part of a risk-reduction strategy. Coastal ecosystems like salt marshes, beaches, dunes and barrier islands have enormous protective value and are essential to any climate-change adaptation strategy. Nova Scotia needs to quickly implement an effective Coastal Development Strategy and no-net-loss of wetland policy to ensure coastal and wetlands areas retain the capacity to buffer inland areas from flooding and storm surges.
5. Invest in adaptation. The last provincial government created a Climate Change Adaptation Fund so that municipalities, community groups, scientists and researchers could put people to work on research and risk reduction initiatives around the province. The current government should double the budgetary allocation, so these projects can get started.
Preparing for climate change can reduce risks, create jobs and save money for Nova Scotia; doing nothing will become increasingly more expensive for taxpayers. Climate change adaptation is about insuring prosperity and economic security in uncertain times. Will this government seize the opportunity to prepare Nova Scotia for our future?
Originally published in the Chronicle Herald, June 25, 2009