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Climate change, post-Sandy planning discussed at rebuilding event

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Efforts to recover from Hurricane Sandy will only succeed if government leaders take the long view and incorporate a wide swath of stakeholders — including the private sector, experts said today at event focused on rebuilding the Jersey Shore.

In a program that opened with presentations on climate change, panelists seemed to agree that future planning must consider the potential for extreme weather to become more frequent. Anthony Broccoli, a Rutgers University professor of atmospheric science, said there is already proof that "climate change does alter the probability of extreme events."

"We know that there is a new normal," Broccoli, director of Rutgers' Climate and Environmental Change Initiative, said at the event at Monmouth University. He added, "All we have to do is look at the changes that have taken place on our shoreline."

Hosted by the planning advocacy group New Jersey Future, the event at times touched on the role that the private sector will play in rebuilding the region. Megan Linkin, a vice president with Swiss Reinsurance America Holding Corp., said the exact impact of climate change on hurricanes was still unclear, but that it was time for the insurance and reinsurance industries to play a larger role in government planning.

She highlighted one product known as parametric insurance, which pays claims based on measurable benchmarks that are reached during extreme weather, such as central pressure during a hurricane. Governments have purchased the insurance in disaster-prone areas like coastal Mexico and the Caribbean, she said, and claims are paid more rapidly than under traditional policies.

And since the claims are not based on loss assessments, policy holders also have greater discretion in how to use the funds, she said.

"There's no question that rebuilding the New Jersey coast is going be a joint effort between the government, the private sector and academia," Linkin said, calling for state and local officials to take a harder look at "risk management strategies and product offerings" from the private reinsurance industry.

The business community must also be involved in any coalition tasked with rebuilding, said Ed Blakely, former executive director of New Orleans' Office of Recovery and Development Administration. He said, "I bet for some firms in New Jersey, Kansas City is looking good now," but that state officials can tackle that issue by ensuring that economic development is a key focus in its renewal effort.

"In a global economy, firms can go anywhere they want," Blakely said, recalling the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "We discovered this in New Orleans, that many firms that seemed to be permanent suddenly located elsewhere."

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