Five ways to build climate resilience into Canada’s infrastructure

WSP expert Ena Ristic had the privilege of being involved in Canada’s first ever Climate Lens Assessment. She reflects on the lessons learned, the value of the assessment and recommends steps for more effective implementation.

Ignoring climate change is expensive and disruptive. Gradually shifting trends in temperature and precipitation — punctuated by projections of more extreme and frequent weather events — are compounding with our already creaking infrastructure system to spell disaster.

According to the Canadian Infrastructure Report Card, nearly one third of Canada’s municipal infrastructure is currently at risk of rapid deterioration. As of 2018, Canadian insurers have seen claims related to natural disasters — floods, forest fires, extreme events — balloon from $400 million annually in previous decades to approximately $1 billion annually today. The Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA), the fund the Government of Canada uses to provide assistance in the event of a large-scale natural disaster, projects that its liabilities will average $902 million over the next five years, by a conservative estimate. Climate change and its associated impacts have now become unavoidable and increasingly widespread.

 

Government funding requirements

In an effort to curtail the costs, the Government of Canada has begun activity to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. In June 2018, Infrastructure Canada released its first iteration of the Climate Lens: General Guidance, a document intended to assist infrastructure owners and operators in assessing the greenhouse gas emissions and climate resilience of proposed infrastructure projects. To gain access to certain program and funding streams, such as the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (which covers public transit, green infrastructure, post-secondary school, social infrastructure and more), the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, and the Smart Cities Challenge, eligible projects will have to conduct a Climate Lens Assessment. This assessment involves conducting a Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Assessment and/or a Climate Change Resilience Assessment, depending on the requirements of the funding stream and previously conducted studies.

In the fall of 2018, the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD), British Columbia, commissioned WSP‘s international team of experts, as an extension to WSP’s Owner’s Engineer role, to carry out Canada’s first ever Climate Lens Assessment, which was for a proposed water supply and treatment plant project . Using our local presence coupled with international expertise, 28 significant risks to the construction, operation, and maintenance of the plant were assessed, the majority of which had been adequately mitigated and had adaptation measures planned that had resulted from WSP’s project approach to the Indicative Design as the Owner’s Engineer for the CVRD. After completing both the Greenhouse Gas Assessment and detailed Resilience Assessment, $62.8 million in federal funding was awarded for completion of the project, providing clean drinking water to over 45,000 people.

 

Five steps for success

Successfully undertaking the first Climate Lens Assessment presented a unique opportunity to test the challenges and opportunities of Infrastructure Canada’s General Guidance. Here are five ways to improve the utility of the guidance and deliver more resilient outcomes:


 
  1. Time your Climate Change Risk Assessments to coincide with project opportunities
    Infrastructure projects can be designed to last a century. Therefore, Climate Change Risk Assessments often fall into near-term (project start to mid-century) and long-term (mid-century to end of century) categories. Assessments should be strategically scheduled to coincide with other opportunities or deadlines. To facilitate earlier adaptation to climate change and build resilience, selecting multiple early timepoints for Climate Change Risk Assessments will help align planning decisions with investment cycles, scheduled maintenance, ownership handover, and/or funding opportunities. Sustainable and resilient solutions that are not feasible today might be ideal in a decade. We owe it to the public to be strategic in how we invest in our infrastructure.

 
  1. Assess the effectiveness of existing control measures
    Identifying existing control measures and assessing their adequacy will help organizations and owners to understand how climate and weather-related risks may be reduced through no or minimal additional investment, and help prioritize future investment. Many current standards, such as snow loading requirements, backup power generators, or buried communications cables, are typically adequate control measures for future climate impacts. Recognizing when they are not or where they could be improved is a simple, effective, and cost-efficient way to adapt for the future using the means of the present.

 
  1. Assign watching briefs to highly uncertain risks
    The future can never be predicted with complete confidence. In instances where the risk is sufficiently uncertain (owing to the science, projections, lack of data, or any other factors) that the final determination of risk is difficult, assessors and operators will likely benefit from assigning a watching brief to monitoring future impacts and adapt as necessary. This will help reduce long-term impacts and costs by proactively identifying and mitigating risks before they become consequences.

 
  1. Assign ownership of risks
    When ownership of individual risks is not assigned, adaptation action is rarely successful. Designating ownership of risks ensures that someone in the organization is accountable; it is a critical step in fortifying a risk assessment and certifying that a response plan will be developed and acted upon. As well as assigning ownership, risks should be time-bound (where possible) to increase accountability, planning, and execution.

 
  1. Embed monitoring and reporting into the asset’s operations
    By its nature, a Climate Lens Risk Assessment will often be completed in the planning and design phases of a project. This leaves the question: what mechanism ensures that the recommended or considered actions are implemented and monitored for efficacy? Plans benefit from having robust future monitoring and reporting systems in place, to both ensure action and hold owners and planners accountable. The risk assessment should be frequently revisited and updated throughout all project phases, including design, construction, and operation and maintenance, with scheduled and mandatory reviews at set points.

 

Canada has taken significant strides forward in planning for climate change by encouraging resilience and adaptation from a municipal to national scale, and for both rural and urban communities. Infrastructure Canada’s Climate Lens is an excellent example of concrete institutional support and direction from the federal government. The Climate Lens Assessment and our proposed steps for success highlight the value of an adaptive, future-ready approach that enables flexibility and opportunities for adjustment as we understand and design for future climate. Through WSP’s Future Ready™ program, we see the future more clearly and work with clients to design for this future as well as for today’s needs. The climate change team at WSP is pleased to have been part of the first Climate Lens Assessment process, appreciates the CVRD’s commitment to actively mitigating against the risks of climate change, and looks forward to helping shape the future of this movement alongside governments, the private sector, and the public.

Download our Climate Lens Assessment brochure

REFERENCES

http://canadianinfrastructure.ca/en/press-release.html

Hodgson, G. (2018, May 15). The costs of climate change are rising. Retrieved May 3, 2019, from

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/commentary/article-the-costs-of-climate-change-are-rising/

https://www.iisd.org/pdf/2013/adaptation_can_infrastructure.pdf

https://www.infrastructure.gc.ca/pub/other-autre/cl-occ-eng.html

https://www.comoxvalleyrd.ca/projects-initiatives/past-current-projects/comox-valley-water-treatment-project


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