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December 4, 2013

Infrastructure impacted by climate change

Construction Corner | Korky Koroluk

With so many studies available dealing with aspects of climate change, it's sometimes hard to make sense of them all.

For a full understanding, it’s often necessary to read them in the context of other work going on in the same or related fields. So, it’s helpful to have someone do a careful reading of the work being done in earth-system science and publish a synthesis that provides a broad overview of the subject. Such a synthesis was published recently, in the hope that it would stimulate a conversation about the resilience of our infrastructure.

Whether it will be successful or not remains to be seen. Certainly, the release of the paper flew well under the radar of Canadian news media.

Korky Koroluk

Construction Corner

Korky Koroluk

I looked for it in the major news outlets and a lot of the minor ones as well, and found nothing.

The paper was researched and written by the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development, with the support of the Cement Association of Canada.

When the paper was released, association president Michael McSweeney issued a statement noting that Canada is in an era of massive re-investment in basic infrastructure.

That, he said, presents us with an excellent opportunity both to mitigate climate change through reduced emissions of carbon dioxide, as well as prepare ourselves for the climate changes already under way. The paper, he said, represents “a modest step towards engaging in the development of a new way of thinking and planning for climate resiliency in Canada’s infrastructure investments.”

The paper presents four general conclusions:

Climate change has the potential to substantially affect the effectiveness and lifespan of infrastructure in Canada, particularly transportation, buildings, marine and water-management infrastructure;

Measures can be taken to limit costs and strengthen the resiliency of infrastructure. The paper documents a number of key policy, regulatory and financial tools for consideration;

While a great deal of research and planning has been done, most supporting policies and regulatory changes remain nascent, and investments have not yet fundamentally shifted, and

Recent climate events in Canada and abroad have galvanized calls for action at the local, regional and national levels, providing a key opportunity for people in industry to get involved now in the conversation about resiliency.

The paper underscores some unhappy truths about climate change. It’s happening, and the impacts now and in the future are unavoidable, it says.

It points to a growing body of scientific literature that provides unequivocal evidence that the change will continue for decades — even centuries — regardless of what we do now. Those changes have clear implications for our infrastructure. Indeed, critical national infrastructure is already threatened and, it says, so is our economy.

The paper says an effective strategy for managing climate risk should involve a combination of responses, centred on technical, policy, legal, financial and socio-economic aspects of the problem.

That could mean new building codes, specific funds allocated to support infrastructure maintenance, relocation or abandonment of some infrastructure, and changes in habits and behavioral patterns in using infrastructure.

In other words, there must be a culture change, a drastic shift in how we relate to the world around us.

There’s a lot more in the report — sections on climate impacts region by region, and by type of infrastructure.

It’s a paper that owners and managers in the construction industry might want to read as they consider the long-term future of their companies. The IISD was established in 1990 as a non-partisan charitable organization specializing in policy research and analysis, and information exchange.

Besides its head office in Winnipeg, it has offices in Ottawa, New York City, Geneva and Beijing. This latest report is titled Climate Change Adaptation and Canadian Infrastructure. The free download is it at www.iisd.org/climate and at www.rediscoverconcrete.ca.

Korky Koroluk is a regular freelance contributor to the Journal of Commerce. Send comments or questions to editor@journalofcommerce.com.

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