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Cape Town fire tragedy raises climate change alarm bells

30 April 2021 The Institute of Risk Management South Africa

The devasting fire that swept across parts of the University of Cape Town campus and surrounding areas is an urgent and timely reminder of managing both climate change and property safety risk.

The Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IRMSA) joins the chorus of South Africans who are shocked at the blaze and the massive damage it caused both to heritage buildings and priceless art and documents.

While the exact cause of the fire is still being determined and legal processes begin, IRMSA says organisations can use the tragedy to begin an important conversation about global warming and the increasing risk it poses.

Notes IRMSA’s Chief Risk Officer Christopher Palm, “It’s only when we see something like the Table Mountain fire close up and how quickly damage is wrought that we realise the consequences of climate change are real and on our doorstep.

While this fire was most likely caused by a person, the hot and dry climactic environment likely exacerbated the blaze and that should act as a wakeup call to organisations both in the private and public sector.”

According to IRMSA’s 2021 South African Risk report, extreme weather events, natural disasters and climate change are among the major risks facing the country and the region.

The report lists five major areas that need to be addressed if these risks are to be managed.

The report says climate change is happening quicker than cities and communities can adapt to as well as a lack of scientific decision-ready data to inform and prioritise effective interventions. IRMSA says raising awareness in government, business and civil society circles has become critical.

Another concern says IRMSA is a rapidly urbanising and growing population that must be accommodated in an environment of low economic growth. IRMSA says stronger collaboration across all sectors and stakeholders led by government and big business is urgently required.

A third concern is a lack of knowledge about how individual and organisational actions are affecting future exposure to climate and weather-related events. IRMSA says a rapid adoption of sustainable practices can go some way to treat the problem.

IRMSA says land use planning also needs to be re-examined and is calling on business and investors to increase pressure on so called dirty assets while promoting sustainable and green investment.

Finally says IRMSA continued low awareness of the problem can be helped by better use of technology and innovative financial solutions to improve resilience and reduce the “risk protection gap”.

Palm says while the big issue of climate change needs to be placed squarely on the organisational risk priority list, looking at property risk and associated vulnerability is also important. This he says would include a physical risk assessment as well as a new insurance audit.

IRMSA’s team of highly qualified risk professionals are on hand to offer advice and consultancy in this respect.

 

 

 

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