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Climate change could help and hurt B.C.’s recreational properties

Carlito Pablo, The Georgia Straight, August 1, 2012

Rudy Nielsen talks about rain reverentially. As someone who has sold waterfront recreational properties for 40 years, he considers it a blessing. 

“I say when it starts raining here in the fall and everybody starts bitching about the rain and the dark clouds, you should instead get down on your hands and knees and kiss the ground that you live in British Columbia,” Nielsen told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. 

For the man behind NIHO Land & Cattle Company Ltd. and LandQuest Realty Corporation , it’s rain that fills the aquifers that feed wells. It puts snow on the mountains so creeks and rivers run all summer long, keeping the lakes nice and clean. 

In a time when climate change is wreaking havoc on weather patterns across the globe, Nielsen sees a huge opportunity for B.C.’s recreational-property market. He mentioned as an example the current drought in the U.S., the country’s worst since the 1950s. 

“As these world crises develop in water and as the global warming is starting to take more effect, and as some of these droughts in the United States take place, I think there’s going to be a lot of buyers looking for properties where there’s lots of fresh water,” Nielsen said. 

With B.C. possessing five percent of the world’s fresh water, Nielsen is confident about the future. 

But climate change also poses serious risks. These dangers are highlighted in Telling the Weather Story, a report released in June 2012 by the Insurance Bureau of Canada. 

According to the paper prepared for the national association of private insurers, catastrophic weather events in this country cost the industry about $1.6 billion in property-loss payments in 2011. It also paid out almost $1 billion in each of 2009 and 2010. 

The report noted that Canada has become wetter during the past half-century. In that period, average precipitation increased by about 12 percent. We experience an average of 20 more days of rain compared with the 1950s. The document states that climate change is at least partly responsible for more frequent and severe weather events in Canada, such as floods, storms, and droughts, “because warmer temperatures tend to produce more violent weather patterns”. 

In B.C., temperatures have risen by 1 ° C to 1.5 ° C since 1950. In the years to come, there could be a 10-to-15-percent increase in “intense rainfall events” in the province, the report stated. The incidence of “severe wildfires” in forests could increase by 50 percent or more through the period up to 2050. 

Stephen R. J. Sheppard is the director of the Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning, a UBC interdisciplinary research group that looks at the impacts of climate change on communities. 

Sheppard noted in a phone interview that B.C. has seen major climate change–related events in recent years. One was the massive rockslide near Pemberton in 2010 that was caused by the melting Capricorn Glacier. 

Forest fires are going to be a bigger concern in the coming years, according to Sheppard. This means that recreational property owners in backcountry locations will have to work closely with their neighbours to reduce fire hazards. Certain waterfront properties may also face greater risks of flooding. 

“The overall trend is we can probably expect increased losses,” Sheppard told the Straight, referring to property damages. 

Ian Bruce, a climate change expert with the David Suzuki Foundation, suggested that because of emerging threats, insurance companies may increase premiums on properties that are in areas more at risk than previously believed. Or some places may be considered so dangerous in the future that insurance coverage may be denied. 

“It certainly presents a risk to the value of those properties,” Bruce told the Straight by phone about the potential effects of climate change–related events. 

For now, Nielsen is seeing a revival of B.C.’s recreational-property market. “This has been one of the best years all my companies have had since the crash of 2008,” he said. “People are buying.”