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Sustainability

Addressing climate change, reducing our environmental footprint, securing the future of work and inspiring confidence in a digital society.

Resilient infrastructure takes center stage at congressional hearing
Mar 19, 2021

Ben Harper, Head of Corporate Sustainability for Zurich North America, sounded the alarm for climate change resilience at a House subcommittee hearing

Identifying climate change as, perhaps, the most complex risk facing society today, Ben Harper, Head of Corporate Sustainability for Zurich North America, spoke at a congressional hearing this week about the need to invest in resilience and mitigation to protect communities in a world where severe weather has become the norm.

“Given the trends that are occurring in the frequency and severity of weather events, we are again sounding the alarm,” Harper told members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure – Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management. “Investing in mitigation measures, including resilient infrastructure, nature-based solutions, and low-carbon technologies is required if society is to continue to operate with the continuity and resiliency that is expected.”

Harper was one of five witnesses who provided testimony at the subcommittee hearing, “Building Smarter: The Benefits of Investing in Resilience and Mitigation.” Other witnesses were Russell Strickland, Executive Director, Maryland Emergency Management Agency; Roy Wright, President and CEO, Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety; Velma Smith, Senior Government Relations Officer, The Pew Charitable Trusts; and John “Chuck” Fowke, Chairman, National Association of Home Builders.

The hearing took place amid growing concerns about the effects of climate change on severe weather events and with the U.S. Congress pressing ahead with infrastructure legislation, a priority of the Biden Administration. Zurich is advocating for the inclusion of strong resiliency and investment in pre-disaster mitigation measures. 

Harper’s testimony was presented on the same day that Zurich officially launched Zurich Resilience Solutions, which includes Climate Change Resilience Services.

Severe weather and aging infrastructure

In a summary document prepared for the hearing, the subcommittee made it clear that they recognize the need to address these issues, writing:

  • “For the last several years, the United States has experienced an increasing and unprecedented number of significant hazard events — hurricanes, tornados, floods, derechos, wildfires, abnormal heatwaves, and freezes — that have impacted tens of millions of Americans and taken varying tolls on countless communities.”
  • “In a 2013 report to Congress … FEMA acknowledged the increase in the number of extreme disaster events and increased vulnerabilities throughout the United States due to shifting demographics, aging infrastructure, land use, and construction practices.”
  • “The National Institute for Building Sciences (NIBS) has found significant cost savings in mitigation projects and the adoption of consensus-based building codes and standards.”

While reaffirming Zurich’s commitment to sustainability and resilience, Harper spoke about how climate change risks are inter-generational, international and interdependent.

“Our aim at Zurich is to leverage our sector’s role as a primary risk signaler for society to help raise awareness of the increasing frequency and intensity of natural hazard events, and ultimately to incentivize the behaviors and best practices that will be required to both mitigate the worst impacts and adapt to changing weather patterns,” he said.

Uninsurable assets

Harper also explained that advocating for resilience is part of Zurich’s mission to protect individuals, businesses and communities, and because it’s the right thing to do. “Furthermore, from an industry perspective, we do this because the impact of extreme weather events is escalating, and without enhancing resiliency and mitigation measures, many assets may simply become uninsurable.”

Harper presented to the subcommittee a practical scenario to illustrate the economic impact of failing to maintain critical infrastructure.

“For example, if we provide business interruption insurance for a casino operating on the Mississippi coast which is built with hardened, resilient components, we need to also consider the supporting infrastructure that can have a direct impact to that insured,” he said. “In this example, the value of the resilient building is limited if this casino is fully capable of operating after a major weather impact, but the roadways leading to the facility are damaged and impassable.”

Harper concluded his testimony by telling the subcommittee that society has reached a crossroads where aging infrastructure and more severe weather will hopefully lead it down a more resilient path.

“Without proper resiliency standards as an integral part of all vertical and horizontal construction, we will simply be in the same situation we are today facing increased perils without proper preparedness, and all at a significant cost.”

Watch a video of the full hearing: Building Smarter: The Benefits of Investing in Resilience and Mitigation.

See video below to listen to Ben Harper’s testimony.