When the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change was released in August 2017, then-Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi introduced the concept of a ‘climate lens’, a tool to help evaluate the climate impacts of the infrastructure projects to be built using federal government money.
A year later, the lens was quietly introduced, providing an assessment tool for projects receiving funding under the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF), Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP), and the Smart Cities Challenge. Two new assessments, the GHG mitigation assessment and climate change resilience assessment, became the tools used by the federal government to evaluate the environmental impact of a given project.
The valuation of environmental factors during project procurement, through a climate lens or a similar mechanism, is imperative for building a strong, healthy and resilient country. Canada cannot meet its Sustainable Development Goals if infrastructure is allowed to be built, or redeveloped, without environmental considerations as part of the procurement process. This includes calculating emissions over the entire life cycle, including during materials processes and construction, and looking for ways to significantly reduce these emissions in line with Canada’s net zero goals. Construction of an asset contributes significantly to that asset’s lifetime carbon footprint and there needs to be a determination of how to minimize this through design. This also includes resilience measures to ensure that assets can be used, and adapted, during all forms of environmental disruption, including extreme weather events, pandemics, prolonged durations of hot/cold temperatures, and more.
For the environmental valuation to be effective, it must be implemented at the very beginning of the planning process. This way, the valuation can be applied for the environmental assessment, preliminary design, and project scope. And by including this early in the process, it provides interested parties with the opportunities to seek out and implement innovative solutions for reaching the environmental goals of the process, rather than having them prescribed or dictated during further stages of procurement.
Asset recycling is an important element of the equation that often gets overlooked. As part of the development of new and rehabilitated assets, owners need to build a plan for how the materials, following the demolition of the asset, can be used in a productive way that does not create emissions. Wood can be dismantled and built into other assets, concrete can be crushed and recycled for use in road construction as an example, and glass and steel can be recycled. And with the innovations being developed for low carbon production of cement, steel and glass, those materials will have less emissions generated during their initial production process. Building materials can be enveloped into the circular economy, helping to reduce Canada’s emissions footprint.
For Canada to achieve its climate targets, the expansion and evolution of the climate lens must continue. Building environmental valuation into the early stages of the concept and design help open options for reducing a project’s carbon footprint and improving its resilience.
By looking at projects through a climate lens, and valuing the environmental impacts of a project on an equal footing to the social and economic impacts, building the Canada we want for 2050 can be done in a way that also allows us to meet our goals to become net zero by that very same year.
For more information on how WSP in Canada can help you reach your climate change, resilience and sustainability goals, contact Mel de Jager.
This article is the second of a four-part series focused on key priorities outlined by WSP in Canada in its submission for the National Infrastructure Assessment.
Article #1: Whole Life Cycle Assessment
Article #2: Making Room for Innovation