Canada is doing little to anticipate risks of extreme weather and this inaction will cost us severely when disaster eventually strikes, said Canadian insurance executives during the Globe conference on environmental business and sustainability held in Vancouver.
Mary Lou O'Reilly, senior vice president of issues management and communications with Insurance Bureau of Canada called for action to prepare for the coming storms in Canada.
"For a long time we lived impervious to severe weather but the fact of the matter is that the story has changed," said O'Reilly, noting last summer's devastating floods in Alberta and ice storms crippling Toronto this winter.
In 2013, catastrophe losses in Canada reached an all-time high of $3.2 billion, an incredible increase from the 1983 to early 2000s average of roughly $400 million yearly, said O'Reilly.
O'Reilly said that about half of last summer's damage alone was caused by urban flooding which could've been kept at bay if safeguards such as sewer and storm water systems had been up to date. "Our aging infrastructure simply can't cope with the changing weather."
Robert Wesseling, executive vice president of Co-operators, said impacts from particularly water and flood damage were a "very real and growing problem." As the effects of climate change become apparent society has a choice to make, he said. "We need to adapt to our future environment or we will suffer the economic costs."
While countries around the world have taken steps to model the risks of future weather, Canada has done nothing and that's a cause for concern, said Wesseling.
"It's hard to adapt to an emerging risk if we don't understand what that risk is," he said.
Instead, said Wesseling, proper measures are mostly taken in the aftermath of a disaster -- when it's too late. "Wouldn't we be better off if we actually understood the risk and had the discussions before disaster struck?"
The reality is that everyone should think damages from a potential flood into their total cost when they buy a house or new property, he said, adding that the key to inform public on that was to model and properly understand the risk.
O'Reilly said she remembered a time when basements were primarily used for storage, whereas today it is more than common to see fully decorated basement suites, often resulting in much greater damages from floods.
With increasing risks of severe weather we will have to change the layouts of where we place our communities, said O'Reilly, and asked why we choose to build next to rivers. "They're nice to look at but they start to lose their appeal when your TV is floating around in the basement."
Kristian Secher is completing a practicum at The Tyee.