While weather is something we experience on a daily basis, extreme events-defined as unusual and severe weather that occur only 5% of the time-seem increasingly common.
Take Vancouver for example. While usually not the warmest place to spend summer in Canada, this year Vancouver recorded 411 hours of sunshine for the month of July-the new record (external link)since recording began over 60 years ago. Meanwhile, the same month across the country in Toronto saw a massive flood that was one of the most expensive in Ontario’s history, with initial property damages estimated at $850 million.
Earlier in June, Alberta too saw some of the worst flooding in its history. The floods lead to 32 states of local emergency, a tragic loss of life, and tens of thousands of displaced persons and destruction of public and private property. And to top it off, an enormous price tag of well over $5 billion greets the flood survivors. The bad news is that the cost is only expected to continue to rise in the next few years, as cleanup costs and insurance claims increase.
And what might get Canadians talking even more is that our own human behaviour is causing these extreme weather events. According to a new report released last week by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, human influences are having an impact on some of these extreme events. The peer-reviewed report was compiled by 18 research teams from around the world who looked at extreme events globally in 2012. The report finds evidence that human-caused climate change was a driving factor for half of the events in the study. The same study finds that because of increase in carbon dioxide in the air, the intense temperatures of 2012(external link) are up to 4 times more likely to occur that in pre-industrial world.
If it’s clear extreme events will continue, some action needs to be taken.
The flooding in Alberta and Toronto were game changers. Not only because they were some of the worst disasters in Canadian history, but because they have initiated policy changes across the country. In Alberta, changes in policy have moved to restrict municipalities from allowing development in flood-prone areas. The impacts of the flooding in both Alberta and Toronto have also caused the Canadian insurance industry to rethink the coverage and rates they offer.
These policy changes reflect a reactionary approach to the immediate impacts of extreme events. But if these extreme events will continue, more proactive policy changes are necessary. Proactive policies are those that move Canada towards a much less carbon-intensive energy system.
So let’s hope these policy changes continue, and Canadians can get back to talking about how to enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.