Thank you, Mr. Chair.
This is the first time I've been invited to appear before the committee, and I thank you very much for this opportunity to share my views and the institute's views on these important issues.
I just want to take a brief moment to introduce myself and the institute. I'm an economist. For the last 15 years, my research has focused on extreme events--tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and those sorts of risks. Our focus is on trying to promote loss prevention. What actions can reduce the adverse impact of these kinds of extreme events?
Our institute has had support from, and we were founded by, the Canadian insurance companies. We're based at the University of Western Ontario, and we have a large team of researchers--and a laboratory--trying to understand how to minimize the risks of extreme climatic events.
Today I wanted to share two key messages with the committee. First, there's growing evidence of the benefits of early action by Canada and Canadians to address change in the climate. In particular, our research has focused on the increasing frequency and severity of large storms--they're already increasing in Canada--and action is urgently required to protect Canadian lives and our property from these extreme events.
Second, a comprehensive climate strategy should include participation in international efforts to mitigate the adverse impacts on future generations, but it should also be combined with a domestic plan to adapt to the local impacts.
Bill C-288 and the federal government's green plan focus on managing future emissions, but both fail to have a comprehensive strategy that includes adaptation.
For the past decade, I've been part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This is the United Nations' process, which John Stone talked about earlier, that is monitoring and evaluating the emerging climate research.
The IPCC has been warning that in a warmer world there would be more weather extremes. For Canadians, these are some of the risks we should anticipate. There will be more large Atlantic hurricanes, hurricanes like Hurricane Juan, which went through downtown Halifax and became Canada's most costly hurricane. There will be more wildfires that could grow out of control and get into urban areas, wildfires like the wildfire in Kelowna that destroyed more than 200 homes and became Canada's most costly wildfire. There could be more heavy downbursts, the kinds of events that led to record flood damage in Alberta recently and also to Ontario's most costly storm last year. There will be growing threats to human health from summer heat waves, and there were record heat health alerts in Ontario in 2005 and in Alberta this year. There will be more drought events. We've had several billion-dollar drought events in Alberta recently. There will be more landslides and avalanches in particular areas, and recently there have been deadly landslides and avalanches in British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec. And there will be more disruption of our transportation networks.
The short message is that this is happening now, and the research is saying that we will see more in the next period of time in a warming world.
The insurance industry has been on the front lines dealing with the increase in extreme climatic events evident across Canada and around the world. Some of the actions taken by the insurance industry may illustrate some of the important efforts that Canada and Canadians can take to deal with the change that is happening to our climate.
Something is happening in the insurance industry. First, the insurance industry is paying a lot more in disaster claims. There's been a twenty-fold increase in payments by insurance companies over the last thirty years worldwide. In Canada, last year was the highest payout year ever. Several billion dollars were paid by insurance companies to Canadian homeowners and businesses because of damage that had occurred.
Second, insurance companies are changing their practices. They're adapting. In some areas, like Florida, where there's been a significant surprise, or unanticipated, increase in activity, insurance prices are going up. There are various other ways that insurance companies have changed their practices to reflect what they're learning about the new climate.
In addition, the insurance industry is investing in research. They're supporting our institute. They've been active for more than a decade in our work, trying to understand what's happened to the climate and what can be done to reduce the negative impacts.
The insurance industry has also been fairly outspoken about public policy actions that can be taken to minimize the adverse impact of extreme events. They've been fairly outspoken in terms of their praise of those governments in Canada that are taking positive action. Good examples of enlightened policy have recently been introduced in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. A number of provinces are showing some real leadership here, but the federal government could play a bigger role.
Because actions needed to bring about meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will take many years to realize, it is critical that the international mitigative actions are supported by local adaptive actions, actions that will deal with the adverse impacts that are happening now. Near-term investments to build resilient communities are crucial over the next twenty to fifty years, while we wait for the international mitigative efforts to have an impact.
Examples of adaptive actions are taking place not necessarily because of support from the federal government. The insurance industry, for example, has taken action not because the government encouraged them or told them what to do, but because they just got on with business. And while some are adapting without help and guidance from government, there still is a very important role for government—in particular, I believe, a role for the federal government—to play to support adaptive actions.
Here are some illustrations of what the federal government could do. The first thing is to provide climate information, local climate predictions, and other risk management tools that would help decision-making by individuals, by business, by others, to better cope with the change that's taking place.
In addition, the government is investing billions of dollars in public infrastructure. It's modernizing building codes in a way that influences private investment decisions. It's important that public infrastructure building codes and other standards not only reflect historic climate, but future climate, and that we spend the money appropriately so that there will be long-standing positive benefits for all Canadians.
The government has an important role to play in protecting climate-sensitive public goods. Here we're talking about coastal regions that are vulnerable all around the country, and the federal government should be more aggressively supporting embedding this protection role in emergency management efforts.
The government has a role to play in making sure the adverse impact of these changes is shared and is not disproportionately on those who are most disadvantaged. And the government has a potential role to support research in these areas.
To conclude, again, I thank you very much for the opportunity to participate. There were two key messages that I was looking to share with you today. The first is growing evidence that early action is important. There are more extremes already occurring in Canada and we need to take action. The second is a comprehensive strategy that not only would deal with Canada participating in international efforts to reduce emissions, but also include an adaptive strategy. Adaptation is the only response available to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change over the next several decades before the mitigative measures take effect.