WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2014 – The nation must invest in improving resilience to the impact of climate change and to extreme weather events such as wildfires, droughts, flooding, tornadoes, and snow storms, lawmakers were told recently.
The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committees held a hearing on “Extreme Weather Events: The Costs of Not Being Prepared.” Committee Chairman Thomas Carper, D-Del., said extreme weather “appears to be the new norm” and it “may well be just the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come.”
As a large snowstorm barreled down on Washington last week, Carper said the United States Global Change Research Program has found extreme weather events have increased in frequency over the past 50 years and are expected to become even more common, intense, and costly.
Carper said wildfires are growing in severity, as well as in frequency, in California – much beyond the traditional wildfire season of summer and early fall. “These fires are enormously expensive to fight and to recover from, and they pose serious threats to lives and property, damaging homes and businesses alike,” Carper said. The senator noted the Government Accountability Office last year listed climate change as one of the biggest fiscal risks facing the nation in its “High Risk List” report.
David Heyman, assistant secretary at the Office of Policy at the Department of Homeland Security, said multi-billion dollar natural disasters have been occurring increasingly. “Trends such as the impacts of climate change, the vulnerability of aging infrastructure, and increasing population density in high-risk areas increase the risk of disasters,” Heyman said. “With changing climate and development patterns and the severity and frequency of extreme weather events increasing, the U.S. cannot afford to leave homes, communities, and critical infrastructure vulnerable.”
Heyman said 98 presidentially-declared natural disasters occurred in FY 2011.
Collin O’Mara, secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said the nation is “staggeringly unprepared for extreme weather events.” O’Mara said Delaware has been affected by extreme storms including Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy, inland and coastal flooding, and droughts and heat waves.
She said the state is taking a wide range of proactive measures at the local level to increase resilience and preparedness to the impacts of extreme storms. “These actions will reduce damage at a fraction of the cost compared to rebuilding after the fact,” O’Mara said.
Among the steps the state has taken, he said, includes an extensive analysis of floodplain vulnerabilities, creation of an advisory committee to help plan for sea level rise, and forming a climate change steering committee.
Paul H. Kirshen, professor at the Department of Civil Engineering and Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire, told lawmakers his research has determined that investing in adaptation of climate change would pay off in terms of avoided potential damages.
“With the benefit-cost ratios so high, adaptation actions are probably beneficial even without climate change,” Kirshen said. “In order for a community, an industrial facility, or a military base to avoid the serious consequences of climate change and obtain these benefits, an adaptation planning process must be carried out now.”
Lindene Patton, of the Zurich Insurance Group, Ltd., said, “Insurance provides risk assessment, risk management and risk-based price signals – all of which help signal risk magnitude and risk reduction priorities to stakeholders. To reduce reliance on disaster recovery funding, increased collaboration with insurers and reliance on risk based price signals will be required because the insurance mechanism is the best indicator of risk that the market economy can provide.”
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