Jason Thistlethwaite joins P4A as Associate Director, sharing expertise on flood risk governance

Friday, February 1, 2019

Partners for Action (P4A) is pleased to welcome Jason Thistlethwaite as Associate Director. Jason is Assistant Professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED) at the University of Waterloo, and a Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). His research focuses on climate change and flood risk governance, specifically the strategies to reduce economic vulnerability at the local level. To inform this research, his research team is building 3D visualizations of flood risk, mapping and measuring social-vulnerability, and developing transformational change strategy to inform governments about effective risk management. Jason has published widely on issues including the role of insurance in climate change adaptation, and policy tools for urban flood risk management.

We sat down with Jason to chat about his research and work with P4A.

Q:How does your current area of research align with P4A’s mandate and goals? 

A: I’m currently interested in flood risk governance, or how we coordinate the diverse range of stakeholders and flood risk management strategies available to Canadian decision-makers in ways that effectively reduce risk. This research has been informed through constant interaction with flood risk management stakeholders and governments at all levels. The puzzle, from our research team’s perspective, is why, despite the availability of many solutions to flood risk management, they are not adopted in practice? Flood risk governance seeks to answer by looking for ways of aligning practical solutions to flooding with existing distributions of power (e.g. between governments), knowledge and responsibility.

Q: Why do you think flooding is an important issue for Canadians?

A: Floods are Canada’s most common and costly natural hazard and the risk is only going to increase. Urbanization, poor-land-use planning that allows development in high risk areas, and climate change are all powerful forces increasing the impact of flooding on our communities. Despite the growing costs and frequency, there is little evidence that we are effective in addressing this problem.

Q: Can you comment on the state of flood risk awareness and preparedness among Canadians?

A: Canadians routinely underestimate their flood risk and as a consequence have not taken any steps to protect their property. This is unfortunate, as the investment in your property represents for many a key source of savings for your retirement.

Q: Now that flood insurance is available in Canada, does that change the need for awareness?

A: Absolutely. Most people are unaware that flood damage no longer qualifies for government disaster assistance if insurance is available. If you have not purchased flood insurance, and you suffer from a flood, you might be left financing the recovery alone.

Q: Flooding is a complex issue. What do you see as being the responsibility of communities and homeowners?

A: This, to me, is the most important question we have yet to answer. Critically, we don’t know how responsibility for flood risk should be divided between property owners, developers, governments and insurers. If we are asking property owners, for example, to play a more significant role in managing flood risk and they are not interested or don’t have the resources, policy will suffer from a legitimacy gap and will never be implemented. Until we clarify who should do what strategy and whether they have sufficient resources, we’re unlikely to improve flood risk management in Canada.

Talk about climate change and flood risk among friends and family, understand your role in contributing to the problem and its solutions, and vote for leaders that care about our generation and the next.

Jason Thistlethwaite

Q: What unique role do you think P4A has in contributing to flood resiliency?

A: P4A plays a critical role in contributing to flood resiliency by seeking and representing the voice of the public – which often goes unheard in the technical discussions on flood risk management. In addition, P4A is actively facilitating the coordination we need among the diverse range of stakeholders involved in flood management.

We know most of the solutions for managing flood risk and climate change, but we are unable to convince ourselves and our leaders to embrace them. How can we bridge the gap from knowledge to implementation?

Jason Thistlethwaite

P4A is delighted to have Jason join our team as Associate Director. Flooding is a complex issue and the team at P4A is dedicated to help build resilient communities across the country. For more information on Jason, please visit his profile page.