Our world is changing

Extreme weather has become more frequent and severe. Historical weather patterns are less reliable, and floods, wildfires, and severe storms are no longer confined by seasons. In this new normal of climate change, we are called to rethink how we manage risk to protect what matters most.

Of the increased risks of a changing climate, flooding has become the most common in Canada. Precipitation is heavier and more localized. Urbanization has removed the landscape’s ability to absorb water, and aging infrastructure is not adequately equipped to deal with it. As a result, floods we would have expected to see every 100, 200— even 500— years are happening on an almost yearly basis.

The impact is significant. Water has now surpassed fire as the costliest cause of damage to Canadian homes. In 2013, flooding in the GTA and Calgary cost the average homeowner $40,000 and $78,000, respectively, and over $3 billion in insured losses.

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the average insured losses due to extreme weather— primarily due to flooding— have reached an average of $400 million annually since 2009. This has increased from an average of $100 million a year over the previous 25 years. Not to mention the impact of uninsured losses or the incalculable social and human cost of catastrophic flooding.

A problem of perception

Despite the devastating headlines we’ve seen related to flooding, research shows that Canadians are largely unaware of their own risk. A 2017 survey of 2,300 people conducted by the University of Waterloo and the Partners for Action Network showed that 94 percent of Canadians living in flood-risk zones were unaware, and less than 30 percent were taking steps to protect themselves.

After all, why would anyone protect themselves from something they don’t know is a threat?

It is up to the insurance industry, all levels of government, and the research community to work in concert to ensure Canadians have access to the information and tools they need to understand their flood risk and take the necessary action to mitigate it.

At the same time, government investment into flood-resilient infrastructure and updated flood maps will help communities adapt to and plan for the increased risks associated with a changing climate, as an alternative to managing by disaster.

In the meantime, The Co-operators will continue working in partnership with industry peers, all levels of government, and the international community to raise awareness of flood risk and its economic impact, charge appropriate premiums for the risk, and put in place mechanisms, products, and solutions that help protect the financial security of Canadians and their communities.

Adapting to the new normal

While the challenges we face are significant, there are relatively simple steps Canadians can take to become more flood resilient.

As a first step, you can find out your level of flood risk and access tools and tips to improve your flood resiliency at water.cooperators.ca. Rain checklists, flood-resilient landscaping like rain gardens, and performing regular maintenance during the year can go a long way to minimize the risks associated with seasonal flooding. To learn more about the flood insurance options available to you, talk to your local advisor or broker, and take action to protect your financial security and peace of mind.

To develop solutions to the complex challenges and increased risks of a changing climate, we will need all hands on deck — individuals, industries, and governments — working together to build safer, more resilient, and sustainable communities across Canada.

Lisa Guglietti is Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Property and Casualty Manufacturing at The Co-operators Group Limited, a Canadian co-operative insurance and financial services organization with over $48 billion in assets under administration. Through its group of companies it offers home, auto, life, group, travel, commercial, and farm insurance, as well as investment products.