When thinking about the future, unfortunately, it is impossible to think of one that does not involve climate change. As a result, climate change mitigation and adaptation measures need to be quickly implemented into society to create climate-resilient communities. This is where the newly formed ‘The Nature Force’ is hoping to make a difference. The Nature Force is a collaboration between Ducks Unlimited Canada and 15 insurance companies dealing in the property and casualty space. The purpose of this collaboration is to fight nature, with nature. This will be done by implementing natural infrastructure through urban-adjacent projects that aim to reduce the effects of flooding due to extreme weather events. Natural infrastructure in this instance refers to wetlands which rather counter-intuitively are one of our best defences against flooding as they act like giant sponges while also offering habitat to a wide diversity of species.
The Nature Force is of extreme importance as according to the Insurance Institute of Canada’s (IIC) 2020 report, the average cost of claims associated with extreme weather is expected to rise by 138% annually, growing up to $5 billion. As you can see, this is an issue that must be addressed now, and that’s what The Nature Force intends to do. As mentioned, this will be done through increasing natural infrastructure through the conservation and restoration of the wetlands that help attenuate flood risk.
Source: The Nature Force
I was provided the opportunity to speak to Mark Gloutney, national director of science for Ducks Unlimited Canada about this project and had a great conversation about it. When asked how this initiative was started, Mark said that this industry-first initiative came about as a result of Ducks Unlimited Canada realising the opportunities that a partnership between themselves and insurance companies would bring. They recognised that there should be a linkage between the insurance industry and the work they do due to the flood attenuating impacts of Ducks Unlimited and because the risk of flood loss and damage is only going to increase in the years to come. This resulted in conversations between Ducks Unlimited Canada, and Tina Osen, President of HUB Canada. Mark stated that Tina was extremely instrumental in the success of planning and organising this project. Tina realised that this project could be catalytic in its nature, and set out on gathering other insurance industry players. They realised that this is a way to do something that would help demonstrate how natural solutions and infrastructure can be part of the solution to climate change, and as a result, 15 insurance companies are now partnered with The Nature Force. Mark said that what’s especially great about this is that Ducks Unlimited Canada will be forming an advisory, or oversight committee with key representatives from HUB to ensure that the vision of The Nature Force stays on track and that there’s good dialogue, traction, messaging and vision between the insurance sector and Ducks Unlimited Canada.
Moving on, I had a few questions for Mark surrounding the planning and execution of this project. Mark went on to elaborate that they would be setting up three pilot projects. One in Ontario, one in Quebec, and one in the Fraser Delta in British Columbia. These projects will demonstrate that natural infrastructure is part of the solution, and allow them to build models which will help understand what features in a particular watershed will have the most consequence for flood attenuation and climate resilience. The plan is that once these are identified, Ducks Unlimited Canada will come in and complete restoration work on these sites. Once completed, they can take the results to the government, policymakers, and municipal planners so that this knowledge can be integrated into future land use planning decisions. This information can then also be shared with other conservation authorities to demonstrate how natural infrastructure can be integrated. Importantly he noted, once this is done it won’t be solely on the insurance industry to pay for the investment, but society as a whole, as all levels of society will recognise this as a solution, over time increasing investments and increasing climate resiliency across the Canadian landscape.
Now that I understood how the project would work, I was curious about any case studies, or examples that were worked on while preparing. Mark explained that Ducks Unlimited Canada had done a lot of modeling in Ontario that looked at the capacity of wetlands in terms of their ability to store water and function on the landscape like a sponge. He then goes on to outline that they had done quite a bit of work with Dr. Blair Feltmate, Head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation. With Dr. Feltmate’s, help they modeled the Credit river in Toronto, observing what would happen in two different storm events with differing instances of wetland environments, and seeing how the flood level changed with these variables. Dr. Feltmate and the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation have access to economic consequence information, and with their help, it was possible to show the economic consequences of these differing flood events. This was formative in their research because it was clear that as you modelled the loss of the wetlands on that watershed you saw property value loss increasing dramatically for both storm events. This was completed about three years ago and the team in Ontario has been working with these results to create The Nature Force.
The Nature Force begins its planning stage this April 2022, as such, I asked Mark if there are any timelines in place for this project. He stated that the initial stages starting in April will be a period of planning where watersheds to be modelled will be chosen, conservation and planning partners will be assembled, and then a model will be built that states the four or five restoration solutions that will have the biggest impact in reducing the floods. This will take a little while and it is expected that they will be doing restoration in Ontario and Quebec by around next spring. He goes on to say that the Fraser Delta may take a little longer due to the complexity of the landscape it is situated on. This complexity is due both to land interest, as well as the topography of the land and proximity to the ocean of the delta, which results in differing conditions to those found in Ontario or Quebec.
Understanding how the project was planned to take place, I was curious about any challenges that The Nature Force has faced, or anticipate in the future, and how they planned on dealing with these. Mark outlined that one of the main issues anticipated is surrounding land ownership. In an ideal scenario, you can find a watershed with the right assembly of partners to make conservation easy, however, this is often not the case. Instances of conservation efforts on agricultural land require models to show what is gained and lost for society through this conservation. Private land ownership is always tricky as well as this is of course, on private property – in these cases the landowners are negotiated with to try to suit the needs of the landowner, as well as the needs of society by attenuating flood risk. Another challenge is associated with the regulatory environment which is always rather uncertain, and there are always elements that cannot be anticipated. Another challenge that was of interest was whether or not species at risk are situated in these areas. Due to the regulatory environment, these species are protected on an individual basis, rather than looking at the population. This means that while a project may be beneficial to the species in the long term if an individual, or individuals in the area are impacted by the project, it may need to be adjusted to suit this regulatory environment.
As evidenced through the resources provided on The Nature Force website, as well as the conversation with Mark Gloutney, it is clear that this project is of extreme importance, and also being set up well for success. Hopefully, this project will indeed be catalytic in its nature and spark more conversations and projects around climate change mitigation and adaptation, especially through the use of natural infrastructure and wetland conservation. With the planning stage under-way as of this April, I look forward to seeing the projects begin next spring and share the same excitement as Mark and The Nature Force in seeing the results from these projects turned into positive, climate change mitigating action over the coming years.