- For the built environment and infrastructure, major climate change risk considerations include flooding, extreme windstorms and tornadoes, and extreme heat.
- The occurrence of floods and extreme weather events can cause significant structural damage to buildings and infrastructure, put people’s lives at risk, incur unexpected or increased related expenses, increase insurance premiums, and disrupt supply chains.
- These risks have important implications for how physical assets need to be managed and maintained now, as well as how they are designed, developed and insured in the future.
What are the financial costs of flooding?
Flooding is already the most frequent and costly natural disaster in Canada. November 2021’s floods in B.C. caused an estimated $675 million in insured damages making it one of the costliest natural disasters in the country. A recent report by the Canadian Climate Institute titled Under Water estimates that climate change will likely increase annual coastal flood damage to homes and buildings from about $60 million to as much as $300 million, potentially reaching $1.2 billion per year by the end of the century.
In 2013 an extreme weather event in Toronto dumped about 126 mm of rain over several hours, causing significant power outages and transit delays, with many people stuck on a GO Train for an extended period of time who needed to be rescued. In total this event is estimated to have cost the City of Toronto over $60 million and caused more than $850 million in private insurance claims.
Insurance companies are closely monitoring the impact of climate change on insurable assets. Residential flooding has already led to an increase in insurance premiums by 20-25% for Canadian homes between 2015 and 2019.
With the frequency and severity of extreme precipitation events expected to continue to increase in the Toronto region over this century, areas with more impervious cover and low-lying regions will likely face greater flood risks under a changing climate.
How do windstorms and tornadoes affect Ontario?
Strong windstorms and tornadoes can cause substantial damage to buildings and infrastructure and are becoming increasingly common in southern Ontario.
- A 2017 windstorm in southern Ontario resulted in $100 million in insured losses as strong wind gusts of up to 115 km/hr tore off roofs and brought trees down on buildings, roads, and power lines resulting in power outages for almost 68,000 customers.
- In May 2018, a severe windstorm is estimated to have caused damages of $380 million across Ontario, making it one of the costliest insured events since the 2013 Toronto flood.
- The May 2022 derecho, which is an enduring band of severe thunderstorms, killed at least 10 people and caused significant infrastructure damage, resulting in power outages for 1,400 Hydro Ottawa customers for over 11 days. Top windspeeds reached 132 km/hr in Kitchener-Waterloo and 120 km/hr in Toronto.
Can extreme heat really warp urban infrastructure?
Increasing temperatures also present a significant risk to the built environment as extreme temperatures place stress on building materials and increase building energy demand for space cooling. Recent examples of the devastating impacts of extreme heat on buildings and infrastructure include:
- The record-breaking high temperatures seen in the U.K. in June-July 2022 caused steel train tracks to buckle, airport runways to warp, and bridges to distort, causing significant disruptions for travel and economic activity.
- During B.C.’s extreme heatwave in 2021, temperatures reached a sweltering 47°C causing significant infrastructure damage from buckling sidewalks and railways to road and bridge closures. Climate scientists from around the world studying this event found that its occurrence would have been almost impossible without human-caused climate change and that this once in 1000-year event will likely occur every 5 to 10 years under a scenario of 2°C of global warming.
With warming temperatures, hotter summers, and more frequent heat waves, a bigger strain will also be put on building cooling systems and energy grid infrastructure. This has important considerations for a facility’s HVAC system as it could lead to more energy consumption and more demand on the electricity grid. Businesses must consider future climate change trends and projections in the assessment of their building heating and cooling capacities.
Extreme heat can also cause transportation disruptions, including air travel. In 2017, approximately 50 flights were grounded for physical and regulatory reasons due to extreme temperatures in Phoenix, Arizona. With no adaptation measures, we could see anywhere from 500-900 flights grounded by 2030, affecting 16,000 – 75,000 passengers, costing the economy billions of dollars.
What does this mean for businesses?
The impacts of climate change on buildings, infrastructure, and transportation have important implications for the businesses that rely on them. As the occurrence and intensity of extreme weather events increase over this century, businesses across the Toronto region must understand their exposure and vulnerability to flooding, severe storms, power outages, and extreme temperatures.
- Buildings and roads located along within flood plains will have higher risks of flooding due to increased exposure.
- Urban areas will see significant flood risk during extreme precipitation events due to high concentrations of paved surfaces and stormwater runoff. This can result in large volumes of water exceeding storm system capacities, disrupting local transportation, and damaging underground infrastructure.
- Extreme weather can prevent employees from reporting to work. Remote working capabilities provide some organizations with an adaptive advantage to current and future climate change impacts while others must consider alternative strategies.
- Extreme weather can result in delayed shipment of goods. This can lead to lost revenues and stress customer relationships. “For companies in most sectors, a single prolonged shock to production could wipe out 30-50% of one year’s earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation.”
- Extreme weather can also result in widespread damage to power generation and distribution infrastructure, that can be long and incredibly disruptive (e.g., August 2003 blackout, April 2022 windstorm, and September 2022 Hurricane Fiona in the Maritimes). For power-sensitive businesses, such as plastics and food and beverage manufacturers, outages are incredibly expensive as they result in the loss of product and productivity.
- Air travel disruptions due to extreme temperatures could impact the movement of goods across the supply chain and inhibit important work-related travel.
Climate change creates implications for buildings, infrastructure, and transportation here in the GTA, throughout Ontario, and across Canada. The increase in extreme weather events will bring heavier rainfall, increase the risk and frequency of flooding and cause costly water damage to buildings and infrastructure. Stronger windstorms and an increase in tornadoes will increase the risk flying debris damaging buildings and trees bringing down powerlines or blocking roadways.
Extreme heat days will require much more demand for air conditioning to keep people in buildings safe but will put more demand on our energy grid and will increase operational expenses for businesses. High temperatures may change the structural integrity of infrastructure, causing disruptions in transportation or putting people’s safety at risk.
Partners in Project Green’s Building a Climate Resilient Business Resource Kit provides a foundation in the basics of current climate science, the impacts of climate change on businesses, and mitigation and adaptation strategies. Please explore these resources and connect with us to advance your organization’s climate resiliency.
To learn about climate change mitigation and adaptation, check out:
- Mitigation: Overview (Coming Soon)
- Adaptation: Overview (Coming Soon)
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