Charles Brindamour is the chief executive of Intact Financial Corp. Dean Connor is the president and CEO of Sun Life Financial Inc.
This year, the World Economic Forum ranked climate change and its effects as the biggest risk facing the world. This reality demands both our immediate action and a long-term plan. Collectively, we are too reactive to the effects of climate change. We must apply greater urgency to implement the most important steps to take now to protect us in the future.
You need only to turn on the news to understand the challenge. The scope of Hurricane Florence’s impact on North Carolina will be added to a growing list of extreme weather events. The numbers tell an alarming story. In 2017, the world experienced an estimated US$167-billion in economic loss from severe weather events. In Canada, floods in Central and Eastern regions have cost our economy more than $3-billion in the past 18 months.
Beyond economic losses, extreme weather events hurt people, their families and their communities. Flash floods, more violent storms, forest fires and searing heat are affecting our most vulnerable. Storms and other weather-related hazards are a leading cause of displacement: Seventy-six per cent of the 31 million people displaced globally during 2016 were forced from their homes as a result of weather-related events. Failure of critical infrastructure compromises emergency response operations and our communities’ ability to return back to normal swiftly after a disaster.
As leaders in the Canadian insurance industry, our companies are tackling climate change on multiple fronts, alongside governments and businesses – and we acknowledge there is more to be done. From contributing to practical solutions such as community design standards to investing in critical infrastructure, our industry can help find solutions. Incorporating climate-change considerations into new infrastructure and identifying additional sources of capital are areas where we’re uniquely positioned to have an impact because of our risk-management expertise.
But climate resilience isn’t just an industry issue. It’s an economic priority. It needs to be on the agenda of every minister of finance and addressed in every government’s budget. The proof is out there. Studies have shown that increasing investment over the next decade in line with economic needs could add about 0.6 percentage points to global GDP.
Collaboration will be key to our success. In Toronto, Intact and Sun Life recently co-hosted the Geneva Association’s global forum on critical climate-resilient infrastructure with that goal in mind. Together with global decision-makers from the business world, international organizations including the World Bank, United Nations and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, along with Group of Seven environment ministers, we discussed how critical infrastructure is affected by climate change. We also discussed opportunities to leverage new technologies, offer opportunities to improve and even transform the design, delivery, efficiency, resilience and greening of infrastructure projects.
For example, we know the investment required to counter years of chronic underfunding in infrastructure is well beyond the capacity of the public sector alone. Public-private partnerships are vital to allow governments to stretch their investment dollars in critical infrastructure such as energy, transportation and water. Private-sector players are well-positioned to commit long-term capital to support economic growth, job creation and quality of life, while responding to climate change.
Climate change is having an enormous human and economic impact. Canadians – especially governments and business leaders – can lead the world in climate resilience. We can do this by forging and collaborating on creative public-private partnerships that leverage our expertise and capital. Together, we can build more sustainable, resilient and prosperous communities in the face of a changing climate.