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Offering incentives could help improve municipal risk management, Canadian Catastrophe Conference hears


February 4, 2016   by Jason Contant, Online Editor


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Offering incentives to municipalities to invest in addressing risk and improving resilience is a dialogue that deserves more attention, attendees to the Canadian Catastrophe Conference heard on Tuesday.

Ewa Jackson, manager of ICLEI Canada, a Toronto-based association for urban sustainability, pointed to a climate change-related incentive for municipalities, introduced by the government of Nova Scotia

“We want to move to dialogue that can help provide clear incentives for cities that invest in improving and addressing risk, and encourage other stakeholders in investing in addressing risk and improving resilience,” said Matthew Lynch, vice president of global partnerships and initiatives with the Toronto-based World Council on City Data. As a “general sort of template,” Lynch used the example of the National Flood Insurance Program’s community rating system, “where if communities take certain levels of actions, it feeds back into the premiums they are offering.”

Lynch made his comments on Tuesday during a session titled Resilient Cities at the first-ever Canadian Catastrophe Conference, produced by Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. (CatIQ) and held on Monday and Tuesday at the Toronto Region Board of Trade in Toronto’s financial district.

“We’re looking at those linkages – standardized indicators that can help broker those linkages between risk resilience and insurability,” Lynch added. “When you start looking at the city-level performance… there are a number of things that greatly influence that risk base, be it planning controls, design and implementation of building codes, performance and infrastructure, emergency response capabilities,” he said, adding that dialogue between insurers and municipalities in Canada is “already happening a lot anyway, but I think there’s always room for more.”

Ewa Jackson, manager of ICLEI Canada, a Toronto-based association for urban sustainability, pointed to a climate change-related incentive for municipalities, introduced by the government of Nova Scotia. “It said that in order to access your gas tax funding, we require you to create and submit to us a municipal climate change action plan (MCAP),” Jackson said at the conference. “The MCAPs essentially provide a roadmap that each and every municipality in Nova Scotia is going to follow to get more climate ready, and that’s both on the mitigation and adaptation side,” she said, adding that implementation funding for these action plans will be the next step. “Climate change has really amplified existing risks.”

Another speaker was Barb Szychta, vice president of risk management services with Princeton, Ont.-based Frank Cowan Company, a provider of specialized insurance programs, including risk management and claims services to municipalities, healthcare, education, community, children’s and social service organizations across Canada. She said the company sees climate change as a “very significant emerging risk” for municipalities because it impacts a vast variety of local services, including sanitation, (waste)water, roads, sidewalks, emergency services, arenas, public health services and long-term care, building inspection, swimming pools and airports.

“Municipalities have to identify how does climate change [affect] their operations,” Szychta said. “It’s identifying your vulnerabilities, your funding sources, resources, categorizing your risk, where should I go first? Where does my money go first? What can I do in five years? What can I do in 10 years? What is some of the low-hanging fruit that we can start doing right now that will either mitigate or not make things as bad if we get a severe weather event?”

For example, some municipalities are no longer allowing development in floodplains. Others are working with developers in making homes more adaptable or resilient, or putting in flow valves or sump pumps into new homes. “Climate change is not something that a municipality can alone can fix – it’s a partnership, they need the various levels of government,” Szychta said.

Jackson agreed, saying that “municipalities aren’t going to suddenly become climate science providers, they’re just looking for information from the experts. It could be from the insurance community, it could be from the science community, it could be from the governmental community.”

Part of managing risk could be as simple as getting people to accept some risk of their own, Jackson suggested. “What do I as a homeowner have to do?” she asked. “I can’t just have a rain barrel and not connect it to the downspout, which a lot of my neighbours do, and proudly say they have a rain barrel that doesn’t do anything. I think there’s that element of we need to transfer that risk from municipalities onto residents a little bit better than we have.”

More coverage of the Canadian Catastrophe Conference

Five of Canada’s six weather catastrophes in 2015 were out west: CatIQ

New IBC flood model shows 1.8 million Canadian households at ‘very high risk’

Preparation key to helping reduce losses from catastrophes, improving claims experience