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Infrastructure built for a new climate: CCA

Climate change will require a new approach to how Canada plans and executes the construction of infrastructure, to ensure our roads, buildings and bridges and the likes can withstand floods, ice storms and other changes to come, a paper commissioned by the Canadian Construction Association cautions.

“It has been estimated that infrastructure failures linked to climate change could cost Canada $300 billion over the next decade, if no further changes are made to existing practices,” says the paper, titled Strength, Resilience, Sustainability.

“Investments in infrastructure are crucial at this time; structurally, Canada’s infrastructure is aging poorly and needs updating while economically, infrastructure investments can spur post-pandemic growth and get Canadians back to work. There is no better time to act to ensure that investments in infrastructure today take into consideration our changing climate.”

The paper, released March 25, looked at the links between climate risk and infrastructure decisions; the cost of addressing the issue vs. doing nothing and what the country’s construction industry does now to incorporate such risks into their project plans and construction decisions.

“We are happy to have the paper in hand, as it serves as a building block for advocacy and progress,” MHCA President Chris Lorenc said. “We are meeting with CCA and other industry leaders across Canada to discuss the elements in this paper that we can, in all of our jurisdictions and nationally, move on expeditiously.”

It lays out a series of recommendations as to how the industry and government can work together to adjust to the new paradigm in infrastructure planning and investment.

The significant impact of a changing climate is not a revelation for the Canadian construction sector; ensuring that infrastructure can withstand extreme weather conditions that vary across the country has always been a key tenet to project planning, design, and execution. The Red River Floodway in Winnipeg is an excellent example of this. Completed in 1968 at a cost of $65 million, the diversion channel around the city has since been used more than two dozen times, preventing over $12 billion in damages (2014), and has since been expanded to provide 1-in-700-year flood protection

One recommendation speaks to the need for project owners, specifically governments in their infrastructure programs and budgets, to recognize that building for climate change resiliency will cost more.

“While we can and should expect companies to compete to deliver the desired level of resilience at the least cost, required resilience must be clearly stated by governments at the tendering stage.

“As a society we must be willing to pay the roughly 10 percent in additional cost for resilience and governments at all levels must ensure that procurement and project design are aligned with the national vision for infrastructure resilience.”

Many of the paper’s recommendations speak to the need for the federal government to incorporate in its announced National Infrastructure Assessment, which aims to identify Canada’s long-term infrastructure priorities, new approaches, informed by the latest data and technologies for continuous improvement, to “ensure that investments in infrastructure resilience have the greatest impact, both financially and environmentally.”

Rainfall and hot weather can have a devastating impact in the construction industry in the future. With rainfall and hot weather being expected to occur more commonly in the coming years, the construction industry may suffer unlike any other industry during this period. This creates the need to investigate methods that would allow construction activities to progress during rainfall and hot weather condition periods with minimum effect on construction projects

Noting that the construction industry has a record of building infrastructure that withstands a wide variety of climate, weather and land-form extremes in Canada, the CCA paper also says the industry’s work consumes 40% of Canada’s energy, underscoring the huge potential to effect environmental and economic change.

“The Canadian construction sector sees the urgency and is prepared to play its part but achieving greater resiliency in the construction sector necessitates a broad paradigm shift, towards a long-term investment model that values resilient design and materials up-front.”

Read the full report here.