2021 B.C. extreme weather events cost province $10-$17 billion, study finds

Click to play video: 'Natural disasters cost B.C. economy up to $17B in 2021 says new report'
Natural disasters cost B.C. economy up to $17B in 2021 says new report
Watch: A new study suggests natural disasters cost the B.C. economy as much as $17 billion last year – Nov 30, 2022

A study has found that the costs to B.C.’s economy from 2021’s extreme weather events could be more than $17 billion.

The report said it was the single most expensive year in B.C. for climate disasters.

The study, done by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), provides a first-ever estimate of the total economic costs associated with 2021’s heat dome, wildfires, flooding and landslides.

Costs from those events are estimated to be between $10.6 and $17.1 billion, “much of which is borne directly into households and businesses,” according to the study.

When asked why the cost is not a concrete number, lead report author Marc Lee said, “actual data for many of the costs we want to measure do not exist, so we developed a range with a low and high estimate.”

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Typically, cost estimates following major disasters focus on insured damages to property and cleanup costs to governments, but the study went deeper to include the lost income for workers due to business closures, lost productivity, and specific impacts on communities.

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“If ever there was a year that underscores the costs of climate change, 2021 was it,” Lee said, who is also a CCPA BC Office’s senior economist.

“The costs go way beyond insured losses, which are typically the focus in the aftermath of disasters like those we saw last year.”

The study also looked at lost wages from businesses being closed due to flooding, wildfires and work lost due to extreme heat.

The report says the estimated costs for those issues for impacted workers are between $1.5 billion to $2.6 billion.

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Vancity Credit Union funded the research, and it says it is committed to using financial tools to help communities become more resilient to climate change and extreme weather events.

“As shown in this report the climate crisis affects us all, but some people are much more vulnerable to its impacts,” said Jonathan Fowlie, Vancity’s chief external relations officer.

“This research lays bare the real costs of B.C.’s biggest climate disasters.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs’ president, notes that Indigenous communities are among the most vulnerable communities in the province.

“An overwhelming number of First Nations are not properly resourced to prepare for climate change disasters and adequately protect their communities, despite passage of the Declaration Act, which upholds self-determination,” Grand Chief Phillip said.

“This research underscores the dire importance of making our communities less vulnerable to climate change and making every effort to prevent warming in the first place. We must immediately stop any further expansion of fossil fuels and fracking of liquefied natural gas.“

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Mike Goetz, the new mayor of Merritt, B.C. — a city that was severely flooded in 2021 — said repairs from the historic flood are still needed and hopes the research will help them receive more funding from all levels of government.

“We hope that this research impresses on the provincial and federal governments the urgent need to assist vulnerable communities. We estimate that it will cost upwards of $169 million to build proper dikes along the Coldwater River to safeguard us from the kind of devastating floods that hammered us last year,” said Goetz.

“Our municipal taxes amount to just $9.5 million per year. There is no way we can do that expensive yet vital work without support from senior levels of government.”

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