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Climate Change From Here and There: Some Canary, Some Coal Mine

When it comes to climate change, insurers have been consistent leaders in applying their trade to benefit their clients, other stakeholders, and the public in general. A recent Intact announcement demonstrates this in spades. However, there are others on the sharp edge of this phenomenon that we would do well to know for the future.

Adaptation In Canada

Last week, Intact Financial Corporation (IFC) and the University of Waterloo announced the creation of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation (ICCA). According to a press release, the ICCA will “act as an incubator for new adaptation measures to climate change.”

Initiatives will include “a green infrastructure program aimed at reducing the impact of severe precipitation in Canadian communities.” In addition, the ICCA will identify extreme weather impacts on various sectors and recommend industry specific adaptation strategies.

Commenting on this, IFC CEO Charles Brindamour noted that climate change is occurring in Canada now, and said, “We must step up our efforts towards building strong, prosperous, resilient and sustainable communities.”

This is wise counsel because, as Yogi Berra said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

A picture of the future courtesy of the Republic of the Marshall Islands

A year ago September, I blogged on the Marshall Islands’ history and current exposure to climate change . I won’t reiterate this information except to say that the Marshall Islanders are smart, kind, industrious people who know the ocean and the weather with intuition dating back 4 millennia.

And two other things:

  • The vast majority of its 70,000 inhabitants live on atolls and islands that are no higher than 3 metres above sea level;
  • Rising seas are only half the problem. Drought is the other half. In 2013, a drought caused residents of the northern atolls to live on less than 1 litre of water per day. Crops failed. Infections ran riot.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands’ (RMI) government has taken an active role in international discussions, including the current COP21 meetings in Paris. And they are getting a good hearing from officials, including that self-described ‘island boy’, Barack Obama. who said that while nations such as the RMI have not contributed much to global warming, they are “among the most vulnerable.

How vulnerable? Bad typhoons can wash houses, and people, into the lagoons or the ocean itself. King tides can contaminate the precious rainwater supply with salt water.

Concerning climate change, The RMI officials refer to themselves as ‘Canaries in the Coal Mine’. And they are serious about accelerating adaptation and slowing the warming.

How to adapt in a (damp) nest

The RMI government has a very narrow view of adaptation, simply because evacuation is not an option.

Ywao Elanzo, acting director of the RMI Office of Environmental Planning and Policy Coordination, says “Most countries that are elevated have the option of a managed retreat, but not here — our front line is our last line of defense.”

Some other island nations – e.g., Kiribati – have taken to buying land elsewhere. This is not financially viable for the RMI.

The RMI has developed plans to alert residents, to protect water supplies and transportation resources, and to try reclaim land in the lagoons. It is early days, but there have been some successes.

Slowing the trend

Longer term, the RMI has an existential interest in reducing warming. They are among the group that has said that a 1.5 degree rise in temperature is the maximum that could allow continued its existence.

To support this, the RMI government has committed to reducing its emissions of Green House Gases (GHG) to 32% below 2010 levels by 2025 and intends to reduce GHG emissions to 45% of 2010 levels by 2030.

Canada is not the RMI, but …

Obviously, we in Canada do not face the extremes seen in the RMI. However, we have seen the acceleration of damage outpace our abilities to estimate probabilities.

After all, how many one hundred year events can we see in less than 50 years without questioning our calibration? Hence the critical need for the ICCA.

I applaud the leadership of IFC, and the leadership of others such as the RMI government who are providing guidance in seeking realistic solutions for the immediate future, and new approaches to prevent catastrophic scenarios.

At the end of the day, there is only one coal mine.