Resilience to Extreme Weather

Resilience to Extreme Weather

Gordon McBean

The Royal Society of Canada is pleased to provide to its community, a new Expert Panel Report from its sister national academy, the Royal Society of London, UK. The full report can be accessed onlineProfessor Gordon McBean, CM, OOnt, PhD, FRSC, Western University and President, International Council for Science, has kindly provided a Canadian perspective on this report and its relevance to Canada and Canadians.

Resilience to Extreme Weather: A Canadian Perspective

Extreme weather is becoming more prevalent in Canada. In June 2013, heavy rainfall triggered catastrophic flooding in and around Calgary with huge social and economic costs. The following month, a flash flood hit Toronto and together, the economic costs have exceeded $7 billion.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada stated that severe weather in 2013 resulted in insurance companies paying out $3.2 billion, the highest in Canadian history.  The Parliamentary Budget Officer highlighted the 280% increased government expenditures in the first six months of 2013-14.   Not included in these costs are the impacts on young people such as the media reported for the Calgary flood: “youth anxiety on the rise amid a changing climate” and spoke about how people do not see an answer for climate change.

The long-term social and economic consequences of these types of events are often not known until years later.  A study showed lower cognitive and language abilities, when measured at 5 years of age, for children who had been affected by prenatal exposure to the ice storm in Montreal in 1998.  Freezing precipitation downed many power lines into Montreal leaving the citizens impacted for months due to power loss, and uncertainty for jobs and health, resulting in overall stress – this was not a resilient society.

There is a need to address the resilience, which is formally defined by the UN International Strategy of Disaster Reduction as: the ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions.

In other words, there is need for actions to reduce impacts and to enable more effective recovery. The 2009 Copenhagen Accord, signed by Prime Minister Harper, states that “climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. … deep cuts in global emissions are required…Adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change … urgently required.”

The important issue of adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change has been addressed by this new report from the Royal Society of London, named Resilience to Extreme Weather.  It was prepared by an outstanding working group of experts, led by Professor Georgina Mace CBE FRS and reviewed by another excellent group.

Since climate change will affect the frequency and severity of extreme weather in the future and societies need to adapt, steps should be taken to reduce people’s exposure and vulnerability now and in the future by re-thinking our approaches to the design and development of our communities, infrastructure and economic systems.

The report makes 7 recommendations. First they note that governments have the responsibility to develop and resource resilience strategies bringing in a wide range of expertise from “disciplines such as environmental management, climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development, and from sources including the private sector, non-governmental organisations and local communities”.

Governments (Recommendations 2 and 3) need to act together with the “purpose, design and implementation of policy frameworks covering climate change, disaster risk reduction and development (to be) aligned and consistent regarding extreme weather”.  In 2015 governments will negotiate the successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action on disaster risk reduction, Sustainable Development Goals for all countries and the future climate agreement.  Recognition of the uncertainties in severe weather and its impacts calls for a portfolio of defensive options and the need for better accounting of these risks in public and private sector organisations (Recommendation 4).

Generally organizations should be reporting on financial exposure to extreme weather at a minimum of 1 in 100 (1%) per year risk levels (Recommendation 5); that is well beyond the next election and the traditional business period.  In order to reduce impacts there is a need for enhanced and societally useful information about extreme weather (Recommendation 6).  And the last recommendation (#7) calls for enhanced research to improve the understanding of risks from current weather and to model accurately future climate change. The International Council for Science is working with its national members and scientific unions to show leadership on all these recommendations.

These recommendations are highly relevant to Canada.  As noted, Canada is seeing the impacts but there is lack of nationally integrated response strategies.  Some provinces and local governments are addressing the issues but others are inactive, perhaps hoping for no events until after the next election.

The Royal Society’s Report on Resilience to Extreme Weather provides valuable science-based information for actions, which are relevant to all nations. It would be worth exploring how the insights and recommendations identified in this report should be implemented within Canada, given our particular challenges and opportunities.

The full report is available from the Royal Society of London: https://royalsociety.org/policy/projects/resilience-extreme-weather