Technology & Science

Insurers warn federal government Canada can't wait a decade to update flood maps

Canada plans to focus its next budget on tackling climate change and its effects, but the insurance industry, amid skyrocketing costs, is concerned the government will move too slowly on the key first step of mapping flood risks.

Most maps are, on average, 20 to 25 years out of date

In June 2013, a massive storm dumped record amounts of rain on southern Alberta, leading to devastating flooding in Calgary and nearby communities. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Canada plans to focus its next budget on tackling climate change and its effects, but the insurance industry, amid skyrocketing costs, is concerned the government will move too slowly on the key first step of mapping flood risks.

Flood mapping is used to underwrite flood insurance, assess bank exposure across mortgage portfolios, inform home buyers, and plan new infrastructure. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged sweeping climate action during his re-election campaign last year, including $150 million  for flood mapping. The federal budget is expected at the end of March.

"Flooding is by far the single greatest peril facing Canadians as a result of climate change," Craig Stewart, vice president of federal affairs for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, told Reuters.

A woman wades through flood water on Lakeshore West during a storm in Toronto on Monday, July 8, 2013. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Stewart said the natural resources ministry is proposing doing the mapping itself with the focus only on fluvial — river and lake — flooding, in a process that would take 10 years.

The natural resources and finance ministries both declined to say whether such a measure would be in the budget.

"We can't take a decade to complete flood maps for this country, and we need to make sure we're mapping urban and coastal flooding as well," Stewart said. He estimates it could be done within three years if the government collaborates with the private sector.

Out of date

A government source said the approach it will take on mapping has yet to be decided.

Current mapping is on average 20 to 25 years out of date, said Blair Feltmate, head of the University of Waterloo's Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation Faculty of Environment.

Insurers spent $1.9 billion annually, on average, between 2009 and 2019 on catastrophic flooding claims, compared with an average of $422 million per year in the 1983–2008 period, according to Insurance Bureau data. The four-fold increase was driven mostly by flood loss and the majority of claims were residential.

Last year, a government-commissioned panel on sustainable finance also recommended a public-private partnership for the mapping.

A member of the expert panel, Tiff Macklem, the dean of Toronto's Rotman School of Management and a former Bank of Canada senior deputy governor, said flood mapping is "an immediate priority."

"The Expert Panel envisaged a model where the private sector would pay a membership fee," Macklem said. "This type of model … would be both less expensive and provide higher-quality data."

 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.