Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Risk

This article originally appeared in the CIA (e)Bulletin.

Across the country, an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events means Canadian homeowners, communities, governments, and businesses face higher social and financial costs in recovering from weather-related damage. Flooding has emerged as the most pervasive natural disaster in the country. A recent research paper from the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation (Intact Centre), Weathering the Storm: Developing a Canadian Standard for Flood-Resilient Existing Communities, provides analysis, solutions, and best practices to help mitigate flood risk.

Climate Change Risk Is Here Now

“Climate change risk is manifesting itself now,” says Natalia Moudrak, Director, Climate Resilience, at the centre. “It’s not going away. This is a new risk that professionals need to understand better.”

Founded in 2016, the Intact Centre is an applied research centre with a national focus within the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo. “Our mandate is to look at climate change adaptation solutions for Canada to protect Canadians from extreme weather risk and to reduce property damage,” says Ms. Moudrak.

Why Flooding?

Published in January 2019, Weathering the Storm is one in a series of papers the centre has produced on flood risk. Ms. Moudrak explains that a 2016 Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) report showed that “property and casualty insurance payouts from catastrophic extreme weather events have more than doubled every five to 10 years since the 1980s”. She stresses that this is insurable losses. According to the IBC, total economic losses could be three to four times that amount, borne by governments, home and business owners.

“We wondered what was driving this trend upwards,” she says. “And discovered it is too much water in the wrong place at the wrong time—since 2009, more than 50 percent of increases in catastrophic insurable losses were attributable to water damage. We decided to look at flood resiliency, since it affects Canadians from coast to coast to coast.”

Retrofitting Existing Communities for Flood Resiliency

While the first paper, Preventing Disaster before it Strikes, presents best practices for designing new residential communities to be more flood-resilient, Weathering the Storm considers flood mitigation standards to develop for existing communities in Canada. 

The paper presents ways people can make existing houses and communities flood resilient, including installation of back-water valves, sump pumps, and sump pump backup systems, to name a few. However, getting people to implement these changes may be difficult.

“Do we really think homeowners will download reports and read them on a Sunday afternoon?,” Ms. Moudrak asks.
“The uptake on subsidies for existing flood mitigation programs by homeowners is consistently below 10 percent in Canada. Identifying these risks is not good enough. How do we make homeowners take action?”

Canadian Standards Development

As with the previous flood papers, Ms. Moudrak notes that Weathering the Storm will serve as a seed document for developing a new National Standard of Canada, with funding from the Standards Council of Canada. 

The Canadian Standards Association is already using the centre’s Preventing Disaster before it Strikes paper to develop a new National Standards of Canada (CSA W204). By October 2019, it will be possible to certify new subdivisions as flood resilient in accordance with this standard.

“Some insurers are offering a 5-to-10 percent discount on home insurance premiums for those homes located in a certified flood-resilient community,” says Ms. Moudrak. “This helps facilitate buy-in for the uptake of the standard from developers, homebuilders, municipalities, and others.”

As well, flood risk assessment training for home inspectors became available at Ontario colleges in fall 2018 through the centre’s Home Flood Risk Assessment Training Course. The course targets certified home inspectors in Canada, but a shorter version will soon be available for insurance, real estate, and mortgage brokers who see flood risk training as adding value for their clients.

Weathering the Storm is a must-read document for all actuaries,” says Odile Goyer, a member of the CIA’s Climate Change and Sustainability Committee (CCSC) and Vice-president of Reinsurance and Development at Optimum Général. “It provides a comprehensive and practical understanding of the risks and costs of floods in Canada and their mitigation. This report can therefore help P&C actuaries build sound flood product, pricing, and loss prevention programs but also help actuaries working in other practice areas to understand the impacts of flood risks and climate changes on their own products (life, health, mortgages, etc). Morerover, this report provides a good framework to prioritize investments in climate adaptation for communities in which actuaries no doubt have an important role to play, being able to provide long-term cost/benefits analysis, evaluate risks and opportunities, and calculate returns on investments.”

Anna Marie Beaton, also a member of the CCSC and a P&C actuary at The Co-operators, agrees. “This report provides a great foundation for understanding the factors and influences within our built environment and social and political systems that make communities vulnerable to water catastrophes. In this context, what it highlights is the growing importance of geospatial data and geospatial science within insurance. Almost all of the factors listed in the paper are spatial in nature.”

The Next Focus

The centre’s next focus is fire and urban heat. Ms. Moudrak says that the impacts of wildfire could affect 11 million Canadians[i] in the next decade: not just fire itself, but the resulting air quality issues for those outside the immediate danger zone. In addition, as the number of extreme heat days of over 30 C increase, particularly in urban centres, vulnerable populations such as the elderly, the young, and people with chronic illnesses, face greater risk of respiratory difficulties, heat cramps, exhaustion, heat stroke, and heat-related mortality.[ii]

According to Environment Canada, “by 2050, hot summer days in southern Canada exceeding 30°C are estimated to be four times more frequent than today”.[iii] In Toronto, the number of days when the humidex exceeds 40 C is expected to increase fourfold.[iv] Toronto Public Health indicates a health-based threshold of 26 C as the desirable maximum long-term goal for indoor temperatures.[v] Yet, in Toronto, only 6 percent of apartments have air conditioning, so this threshold will be frequently exceeded as per the projections above. “We want to determine what the best practices are to reduce urban heat, including greening streets and providing cooling spaces inside and outside buildings,” says Ms. Moudrak. 

“We look forward to this new research and their conclusions,” says Ms. Goyer, “as climate changes will increase the frequency and severity of wildfires and heat waves which will have significant social impacts by increasing the cost of fires, health, sickness, and deaths.”

Staying Informed

Climate-related risk affects all sectors of the economy. The work and research that the Intact Centre has done and plans to do in the future could help government, business, and individuals adapt to and mitigate those risks.


[i] Peter, Brian & Wang, Sen & Mogus, Tony & Wilson, Bill. (2006). Fire Risk and Population Trends in Canada’s Wildland–Urban Interface. 33–44.

[ii] www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/environmental-workplace-health/reports-publications/climate-change-health/climate-change-health-adaptation-bulletin-number-1-november-2009-revised-december-2010-health-canada-2009.html

[iii] http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2008/hc-sc/H128-1-08-528E.pdf

[iv] www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/982c-Torontos-Future-Weather-and-Climate-Drivers-Study-2012.pdf

[v] www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2018/ls/bgrd/backgroundfile-114428.pdf

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