GLOBE-Net, November 5, 2012 – As communities along the Atlantic seaboard pick up the pieces after Hurricane Sandy, many are asking questions about the underlying cause of this monster storm.
While random weather events that happened to come together simultaneously certainly played a part, many are pointing to climate change as the larger fundamental driver of record-breaking storms like Sandy. And many are now calling for more aggressive measures to limit the impacts of these hyper-destructive events, which some fear may end up becoming the new norm for East Coast weather.
The eighteenth named storm and tenth hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, Sandy left in its wake more than 180 fatalities and in excess of US $20 billion in damages – second only in terms of economic destruction to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When full accounting is made of the costs of the clean up, the rebuilding, and the losses due to business interruptions, Sandy’s financial impact could easily surpass the US $50 billion mark.
Entire neighbourhoods went up in flames. Historic sites such as Atlantic City’s boardwalk, amusement park, and penny arcade were washed out to sea. Power is only now being fully restored to the millions of residents along the Atlantic seaboard. (See photo below)*
While the numbers add up quickly when natural disasters strike urban centres in densely populated locations such as New York and New Jersey, rural communities with much smaller populations are also at risk of major economic disruptions. That is why, regardless of their size, communities must act to prepare accordingly.
One example is Newfoundland and Labrador, a province in Atlantic Canada with a total population of just over 500,000 people.
Storms are commonplace here and Canada’s most easterly province is showing leadership by taking proactive measures to reduce the climate-related risks associated with events like Sandy.
Only two months ago, Newfoundland and Labrador had to deal with Tropical Storm Leslie, which hit the province’s southeast coast with 130 kilometer-an-hour winds, eight-meter-high waves, and pounding rain, knocking down trees and power lines in its furry.
In addition to disrupting valuable industries such as fisheries and aquaculture, more frequent and intense storms are accelerating coastal erosion, putting many of the region’s earliest historical and archaeological sites at risk.
Seventy percent of the 1,660 archaeological sites on the island of Newfoundland are found in coastal locations. Potentially impacted sites include historically-significant Aboriginal and European settlements such as Ferryland and Stock Cove.
Climate Change Leadership Leading to New Opportunities
Realizing the environmental, social, and economic risks due to climate change, the Provincial Government in Newfoundland and Labrador created the Office of Climate Change, Energy Efficiency, and Emissions Trading (OCCEEET) in 2009.
As part of its 2011 Climate Change Action Plan, the government undertook to lead by example in order to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and to support local residents, industries, and businesses to do the same.
The government also determined that important economic gains could be realized by being proactive in terms of mitigating the potential impacts of climate change.
To this end, the government commissioned Vancouver-based GLOBE Advisors, in partnership with AMEC Earth and Environmental in St. John’s, to undertake a study on the economic development opportunities in Newfoundland and Labrador’s “green economy” (more here).
The GLOBE report is a significant one. For the first time, the government was able not only to define in real terms the dimensions of its local green economy, but also quantify some of the investment and job creation benefits.
Also highlighted in the GLOBE report was the fact that pursuing green economy initiatives could strengthen community resiliency and reduce the economic, social, and environmental risks from climate change.
Growing Opportunities in the Green Economy
Based on the recommendations coming out of that report, the Newfoundland and Labrador Environment Industry Association (NEIA) recently hosted a major conference to engage industry leaders and to explore further some of the opportunities identified in the GLOBE Advisors report.
The “NewLeef 2012” Forum was held in St. John’s on October 23 and 24. The conference brought together more than 90 key stakeholders from business, government, academia, and the NGO community to look at growing the opportunities in green building and energy efficiency, waste management and recycling, and sustainable resource management.
Paul Shorthouse of GLOBE Advisors (pictured right below), one of the authors of the green economy report, was there in person to discuss the research and findings.
Mike Harcourt, former Premier of British Columbia and Mayor of Vancouver (pictured left below), was also present to share his experiences with respect to building more sustainable communities.
What became quickly apparent during the conference was the enthusiasm and high level of engagement by those present to look beyond the risks presented by climate change.
The focus was more on new opportunities associated with building more resilient communities, and by creating a more productive and efficient economy through the deployment of “green” technologies and business practices.
While some may continue to discount climate change as a major contributing factor for catastrophic weather-related events such as Hurricane Sandy, the provincial government and many industry players in Newfoundland and Labrador are proactively looking to capitalize on the economic and social opportunities of addressing climate change risks through strategic mitigation and adaptation initiatives.
In doing so, the province is boosting investments in clean technology and critical infrastructure and, in turn, creating jobs at home.
There will be more storms like Sandy in the years ahead, but Newfoundland and Labrador is working in order to be ready and well-prepared for meeting the challenges.
For more information on the Newfoundland and Labrador Green Economy study, click here.
*Hurricane Sandy photograph by Master Sgt. Mark Olsen/U.S. Air Force