Canada’s Insurers Urge Action from Prime Minister on Disaster Reduction

TORONTO, Feb. 15, 2005 – The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction is urging Prime Minister Martin to establish a comprehensive strategy to address climate change, including a plan to help Canadians adapt to the growing threat of extreme weather.

“The implementation of the Kyoto Accord is a reminder that global warming is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Dangerous weather causes property damage, injuries and fatalities”, said Paul Kovacs, Executive Director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction. “Canada’s property and casualty insurers are adapting to this threat, and they urge the federal Government to do the same”.

This week, the Institute wrote to the Prime Minister asking the Government to establish a long- term National Strategy for Disaster Reduction that goes beyond our Kyoto commitments. It urged the federal Government to work with other stakeholders to enhance the resilience of Canadians to the growing threats of extreme weather and other natural hazards. The strategy should include a $750 million plan to help Canadians become more resilient to extreme weather by :

  • investing in disaster safety and loss prevention infrastructure

  • establishing an all hazard warning and information system

  • creating a culture of disaster safety and knowledge

  • committing to disaster loss prevention research and education.

Many have already begun to adapt to the growing threat of extreme weather such as insurance companies in the private sector and non-governmental organizations, like the Canadian Red Cross. Most provinces and local governments are also adjusting their emergency management practices. Unfortunately progress has been constrained by the absence of federal support.

“Public safety has been identified as a priority for the federal Government, and this should include a plan to confront the alarming increase in extreme weather damage. It is not possible to stop a storm from striking, but we have the knowledge to prevent it from becoming a disaster”, said Mr. Kovacs. “What we need is a federal commitment to work with insurers and other stakeholders to promote disaster safety”, he concluded.

Established in 1998 by Canada’s property and casualty insurers, ICLR is an independent, not-for-profit research institute based in Toronto and at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. ICLR is a centre of excellence for disaster loss prevention research and education. ICLR’s research staff is internationally recognized for pioneering work in a number of fields including wind and seismic engineering, atmospheric sciences, water resources engineering and economics. Multi-disciplined research is a foundation for ICLR’s work to build communities more resilient to disasters. Ongoing ICLR funding is provided by the insurance community, the University of Western Ontario and the Ontario Research and Development Challenge Fund.

February 14, 2005

The Right Honourable Paul Martin, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
Langevin Block
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A3

Dear Prime Minister Martin:

The Kyoto Accord comes into force on Wednesday. On behalf of the insurance industry, I would like to use this opportunity to urge your government to establish a comprehensive strategy to address climate change. This should include a longer-term mitigation strategy that goes beyond the short-term goals agreed to in the Kyoto Accord, combined with an adaptation strategy to help Canadians adjust to changes in the climate.

Of particular concern to the insurance industry has been the increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Recent examples of extreme weather events in Canada include: eight people were killed when Hurricane Juan struck Halifax, a dozen people were killed by the Pine Lake tornado, 244 homes were destroyed by wildfire in Kelowna, a deadly landslide occurred in North Vancouver, several hundred million dollars of flood damage hit Peterborough and Edmonton, and the 1998 ice storm that caused more than $5 billion in damage. Dr. Robert Watson, the former Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, observes that “… the frequency and magnitude of these types of events: heat waves, floods, droughts, fires and extreme weather events leading to significant economic losses and loss of life, are predicted to increase in a warmer world.”

The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction has documented changes in the practices of our member insurance companies due to changes in climate. First, disaster damage payments are rising to homeowners and businesses, and we recognize that this is the business of insurance. Second, the industry is shifting from pricing based on historic experience to protections of future loss claims based on scientific models. Third, insurers are investing in academic research to identify loss prevention options. And fourth, the industry is working to share its loss prevention knowledge with the general public and other interested stakeholders.

Through the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, insurers have developed a number of programs to improve society’s resilience to extreme weather. Protecting our kids from disasters provides safety retrofits for child care centres. Designed… for safer living identifies safety elements that should be added when a new home is built to improve resilience to extreme weather damage. Open for business is a continuity-planning tool for small business that helps companies reopen following a disaster.

National policy also needs to adapt. Most countries, but not Canada, have a national strategy to minimize disaster losses. Several provinces, including Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, recently addressed this concern through reform of their emergency management legislation and practices. Following the approach championed by the insurance industry, the provinces are working with local governments to strengthen preparedness for emergency response while also preparing to invest in loss prevention. This adaptation in provincial policy and local government practices with respect to extreme weather holds great promise to improve public safety in Canada, but unfortunately it has been constrained by the absence of a complementary federal effort.

We urge you to establish a National Strategy for Disaster Reduction to demonstrate the willingness of the federal Government to work with other stakeholders to enhance the resilience of Canadians to the growing threat of extreme weather and other natural hazards. This should include a $750 million fund so the federal Government can address the following priorities:

  • investing in disaster loss prevention and
    safety infrastructure

  • establishing a national all-hazard warning and
    information system

  • building a culture of disaster safety and
    knowledge

  • committing to disaster safety research and
    education.

A national initiative would involve insurers and others from the business community, provincial and local governments including the Federation for Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Red Cross and other non-governmental agencies.

As the Kyoto Accord comes into effect, the insurance industry urges you to take aggressive action to confront the adverse consequences of extreme weather events as a critical component of a comprehensive climate strategy. Action to address this challenge would be consistent with the commitment in your government’s first speech from the throne that “Safeguarding the health of Canadians is a top priority for this Government.”