The effects that overall rising global temperatures are having on our climate is already having a large influence on property claims both in Canada, and worldwide. It is critical for forensic experts and insurers alike to understand our changing landscape in order to mitigate losses and design with the planet in mind.

Global Warming & Climate Change: Evidence, Causes, and Effects

Global warming and climate change are two separate concepts that are deeply intertwined; global warming refers to the increase in the average temperature of the earth on a global scale, while climate change refers to the changes in precipitation, wind, season length, and frequency of extreme weather events like droughts and floods on global and local scales. The relationship between the two can be simplified as this: global warming is causing climate change.

But what caused global warming? There are a number of factors driving global warming, but they all relate back to one common cause: human activity.

Although burning fossil fuels is probably the most often blamed culprit, other human activities such as deforestation, urbanization, animal farming, agriculture, and industrial activities are all contributing factors. The reason these activities are driving climate change is that they create greenhouse gasses (GHG’s) which stick around in the lower atmosphere and trap incoming solar radiation, keeping the planet warm. Without the greenhouse effect, the global average temperature would be a chilly -18°C. However, with rising levels of GHG’s, a slow trend of rising global temperatures has begun to form. The graph below summarizes data from NASA, illustrating the global temperature change between 1880 and 2016 relative to the 1951-1980 average.[1] Not only does this show that the earth’s average surface temperature has been rising, but alarmingly, the number of record-breaking hot years has also been on the rise.[2]

In addition to the data collected by NASA, similar findings were reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Met Office Hadley Centre / Climactic Research Unit, and the Japanese Meteorological Agency.[3],[4],[5],[6]

To measure climate change, scientists look at how the usual weather patterns are changing in any given area. A global history of natural disasters, including their associated property loss, was developed by Munich RE in what they dubbed the NatCatService. The graphs below are excerpts from Munich RE’s NatCatServce showing the total number of natural loss events between 1980 and 2016 worldwide[7], alongside the dollar amount lost in property damage (recorded in 2016 USD). [8]

For the insurer, the truly problematic trends include: increasing episodes of “extreme weather”; more frequent and more severe of storms; and rising levels of precipitation. All of these effects have been recorded not only in Canada, but worldwide.

 


Facing Climate Change: Mitigation and Adaptation

Engineers:

In response to climate change, the engineering community recognizes the need to protect what we have and ensure that future designs can withstand more severe weather events. When engineers design buildings, roadways, and infrastructure, a margin of safety is applied to ensure safety during relatively rare events such as major storms or earthquakes. However, now that “extreme” storms are occurring more often, building codes need to adapt to improve the resilience of homes and infrastructure due to the effects of climate change. Thanks to a 40 million dollar investment into the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), building code updates will start in April 2017, and conclude by 2020[9], incorporating upgrades to infrastructure including roadways, bridges, and sewer systems.

In addition to designing and retrofitting for climate change, engineers are also in a position to combat it. Building codes will also be adapting to mandate energy efficiency. This means less waste, and less harmful emissions into the environment. Effective January 1, 2017, the Ontario Building Code raised their standards for energy efficiency in homes. The changes included improvements to the efficiency of furnaces and hot water tanks, better insulation and windows, and the requirement for homes to have drain water heat recovery systems (this system captures heat from outgoing hot water to warm incoming cool water). Overall, the amendments are estimated to improve homes by reducing the energy consumed by 50 percent compared to 2017.[10]

Insurers:

Insurers play a central role in identifying and evaluating risk caused by climate change related disasters. Moreover, as the insurance industry learns more about how to adapt, that knowledge can be passed down to home owners, where a small investment in protecting their home can reduce future risk. Even something as small as installing a backwater valve (roughly $200) can save anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000[11] (the average cost to repair a flooded basement). As suggested by IBC, there is also potential for insurers to implement incentives for homeowners to adapt to risk: “The structure of insurance encourages consumers to reduce their exposure to specific hazards through risk mitigations measures”. [12]

Forensic Engineering Investigators:

Like the insurer, forensic engineering investigators will need to be prepared for the changing nature of property claims based on the science. It is likely that alongside a rise in property damage, there will be a rise in the need for forensic engineering experts to investigate the cause of structural failures. It is even possible that as building codes slowly begin to adapt to the changing climate, so too will the engineer’s opinions on what is reasonably expected of a structure to withstand. For this reason, it is crucial that Engineers, Insurers, and Forensic Investigators must be aware of the current trends and research that link global warming to climate change, and ultimately to property damage.

We’ve seen that climate change is becoming a major problem when it comes to property damage. Luckily, civil/structural engineers as well as forensic engineers and investigators are keeping up with the leading edge of climate change science, and are already working with insurers to get a head start on mitigating damages and adapting for the future of property claims.

 

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References:

[1] https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/jan/23/were-now-breaking-global-temperature-records-once-every-three-years

[3] https://www.climate.gov/

[4] http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadcrut3/diagnostics/comparison.html

[5] http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/en/Activities/cc.html

[6] https://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/9/

[7] http://natcatservice.munichre.com/events

[8] http://natcatservice.munichre.com/overall

[9] https://www.desmog.ca/2017/03/07/canada-s-buildings-will-finally-be-built-climate-change-mind

[10] http://ottawacitizen.com/life/homes/2017-building-code-changes-will-promote-greener-houses

[11] https://uwaterloo.ca/environment/sites/ca.environment/files/uploads/files/CCAP-Report-30May-Final.pdf

[12] http://assets.ibc.ca/Documents/Natural%20Disasters/Economic_Impact_Disasters.pdf

 

 

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