Canada?s North is on the frontline of climate change. The speed and magnitude of change in Canada?s North and its uneven and limited response capacity to address this emerging risk highlight a clear gap in our allocation of resources and attention to this region of our country. This is clearly apparent with infrastructure vulnerability. Engineering in cold climates, a lack of redundancies in infrastructure systems, limited financial and human resources to assess risks, apply and enforce standards, are some of the characteristics that contribute to this vulnerability. A changing climate now adds to the complexity of managing risks to northern infrastructure ? especially when combined with the social and economic transformations already occurring in the region. Driven by economic development and demographics and exacerbated by climate change, Canada?s North is likely to experience unprecedented pressure on infrastructure systems.
Infrastructure is both a means for adaptation and at risk from the impacts of climate change, nowhere more so than in the North. As a long-lived asset, the risk profile of many infrastructure systems will intensify over time as climate change accelerates. Yet, their resilience will be essential for sustainable regional development and for safeguarding national and northern security interests for all Canadians. Therefore, it is in Canada?s best interest to ensure that sufficient regional capacity exists to successfully manage climate risks to infrastructure, and that national processes and mechanisms work for the North.
Canada?s capacity to adapt to a changing climate is enormous compared to many other regions of the world. If we are going to advance adaptation, we need to harness this capacity. But, barriers exist to mainstreaming adaptation within existing public- and private-sector policies and processes. Our research and consultations revealed four main barriers we need to overcome:
First, capacity constraints. Capacity refers to knowledge, technical skills, organizational and planning capabilities, decision rules, and finances that enable stakeholder participation in managing the risks of climate change. If capacity to solve problems and manage risks is already insufficient, adding the climate-change layer is likely to further strain budgets and human resource capacities. In Canada?s North, gaps in human resource and organizational capacity add up to serious constraints on communities? abilities to adapt to a changing climate. Clarifying capacity needs for managing climate risk begins with the alignment of accountability and responsibility. Among others, capacity needs relate to:
Second, gaps in data and information. Data and information refer to inputs into strategic, operational and technical decisions. It includes information related to climate, other environmental factors, both data and projections. It also includes data and projections of a social nature, such as social and economic trends and behaviours that increase vulnerability. Infrastructure practitioners involved in the NRTEE?s research and consultations all emphasized the need for appropriate and adequate data and information, and tools to support decision making, as basic ingredients for effective action on adaptation.
Canada?s recent scientific assessment of climate change impacts and adaptation concludes that enough information exists to move forward on adaptation as a policy goal. However, important gaps remain when it comes to site-specific information for operational decisions. In Canada, several trends have contributed to weaknesses in climate-relevant data and information systems, including the following:
It is important to remember that data and information in support of adaptation is not only about climate. It also includes information on social and economic characteristics and trends that shape vulnerability to climate change, such as trends in land-use, the state of infrastructure assets, the combined effects of changes in climate and other trends such as aging population.
Third, lack of guidance. Guidance refers to agreed-upon approaches and methods to account for climate risks in routine planning and decisions. Guidance can apply to decisions at the policy, program, or operational level. Our research found that decision makers and practitioners need guidelines and methodologies to incorporate climate change?related information, such as trends and forward-looking projections, into their planning and decisions. Engineers, for example, continue to seek from government new or updated climate design values and approaches to apply to infrastructure-related codes and standards; but progress has been slow. This has a cascade effect. Poorly adapted CSRIs equate to a lack of basis for underwriting by insurers, which can result in artificially high insurance premiums, as insurers add a ?safety cap? to account for unmeasured risk. Determining appropriate levels of monitoring, data generation and analysis, and development of decision-support tools is a collaborative effort between suppliers and users of these resources. Federal programs such as the Regional Adaptation Collaboratives and Tools for Adaptation delivered by Natural Resources Canada, promote this type of collaborative approach as an efficient and effective way to turn knowledge into action.
Fourth, issues of coordination. Coordination refers to the mobilization of decision makers and stakeholders toward shared adaptation goals. A major observation of the NRTEE?s research is that decision makers face disincentives to incorporate climate risks into plans, strategies, and practices. Decision makers across society lack the high-level signal that adaptation is an issue to address today and that an effective approach to move forward is to internalize this reality alongside other objectives. Efforts to build capacity to adapt and to manage climate risks are taking place but they are occurring in response to specific pressures and events, according to existing interests and capabilities. The absence of an overall national framework or commitment results in piecemeal responses that are uncoordinated and run the risk of being ineffective and expensive.
The NRTEE makes the following recommendations to promote the resilience of northern infrastructure and its ability to adapt to a changing climate. Our recommendations have two objectives: first, make existing institutions work better now by mainstreaming adaptation into government policies, processes, and mechanisms and ensuring northern views are ?at the table?, and second, build northern climate change adaptation capacity in science and at the community level, so the region is more resilient, selfreliant, and less vulnerable in meeting the challenges of climate change adaptation in the years ahead.
MAINSTREAMING ADAPTATION INTO POLICY
1. Integrate climate risks into existing government policies, processes, and mechanisms.
We can tackle climate change adaptation effectively now by simply utilizing existing policies, processes, and mechanisms more effectively. We don?t need to wait to invent new ones. What?s needed is to take existing knowledge and mainstream adaptation perspectives into what we already do. This means making future infrastructure decisions on a climate-wise basis, integrating longer-term climate factors into planning, funding, building, and management decisions now. Specifically, the NRTEE recommends that:
2. Ensure northern interests are represented and implicated in the development of climate change adaptation solutions.
National processes and mechanisms do not adequately account for, or utilize northern perspectives in designing and updating important tools for climate change adaptation. This is essential if this region is going to prepare itself for what?s ahead. Meaningful input from northern practitioners, experts, and communities in infrastructure planning, designing, and building needs to be organized and institutionalized on a regular basis. Specifically, the NRTEE recommends that:
BUILDING NORTHERN ADAPTATION CAPACITY
3. Strengthen the science capacity and information use in the North to support long-term adaptation efforts.
Science is at the heart of climate change knowledge and trends. We need to know more about the nature and extent of climate change in Canada?s North and how it will affect infrastructure and communities. Data and information of this type can have wider utility and applications beyond government, supporting private infrastructure development and communities? capacities to adapt quickly and effectively. Specifically, the NRTEE recommends that:
4. Build community capacity to address climate risks to northern infrastructure and take advantage of opportunities.
Communities in Canada?s North need stronger adaptive capacity to deal with climate change. The vulnerability of northern infrastructure and related services is plainly evident. Reliable infrastructure is central to sustainable regional development and human security. Yet, in many northern communities, the capacity to assess and manage the risks to infrastructure posed by climate change, as well as to seize opportunities, is very limited. Specifically, the NRTEE recommends that: