Exchanging Ideas on Climate
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy
Exchanging ideas on Climate

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True North: Adapting Infrastructure to Climate Change in Northern Canada

6.0 Conclusions and Recommendations

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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:

  • participation and prioritization
  • application of knowledge, including traditional knowledge, and decision-support tools to specific situations
  • implementation of strategies to manage climate risks, including capacity to monitor, learn from strategy implementation, and adjust strategies, as appropriate
  • financial and human resources to support all of the above

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:

  • A declining commitment to long-term environmental monitoring, and a corresponding decline in public service capacity to analyze collected data. Meteorological, ecosystem, and other types of monitoring efforts have decreased over the past 15 years. As noted in the 2006 report on climate change by the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development, federal budget reductions have constrained monitoring networks, as well as the archiving and analysis of data in support of decisions such as infrastructure design. Recent initiatives and commitments in Canada and with collaborators ? such as activities of the International Polar Year to retool several observation networks, the federal commitment to establishing the Canadian Arctic Research Institute, and the Sustainable Arctic Observatory Network ? have provided a foundation on which to rebuild what has been lost.

  • Fragmentation in data collection and information dissemination efforts by governments. Regional collection of climate-related data does take place, such as that through territorial water boards. However, their ability to provide information in useful formats for decision makers and practitioners is limited. Some economic sectors collect their own data, but this privately collected data too often remains inaccessible to other decision makers, including those in the public sector. Efforts to disseminate data and information and make it accessible, through central repositories or portals, for example, could greatly increase its use.

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.

6.1 Recommendations

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.


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:

  • The Government of Canada use its infrastructure programming and related federal-provincialterritorial frameworks to leverage the integration of climate risks in new construction and rehabilitation of infrastructure, ensuring that the systems are in place to monitor and report on infrastructure performance.
  • The Government of Canada, through the Standards Council of Canada, lead efforts to ensure the effectiveness of codes and standards for infrastructure design, planning, and management to address climate risks, and that this be regularly assessed in light of new climate information.
  • Governments and the insurance industry collaborate to examine the role of private insurance in managing climate risks to infrastructure, potential changes in access to coverage of insurance as new climate risk factors emerge, and the need for mandatory disclosure of financial risks that climate change poses to the industry.
  • Governments at all levels undertake a collaborative review of current disaster/emergency management frameworks as mechanisms to enable adaptation to climate change on a preventative basis.

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:

  • The Government of Canada promote dialogue and engagement between risk management practitioners (codes, standards, and related instruments; insurance; disaster management) operating in Canada?s North and the climate change adaptation community.
  • The Government of Canada consider expanding the relevant national model codes, such as the National Building Code of Canada, to provide direction to northern infrastructure practitioners on the integration of climate risks.
  • Governments collaborate with northern infrastructure practitioners to develop design and engineering guidelines, or peer-reviewed best practices, specifically for Canada?s North for each major category of infrastructure.
  • Governments highlight expertise and experience in addressing climate risks to northern infrastructure at the circumpolar level, to share knowledge, learn from others, and enforce Canadian leadership as part of Canada?s Northern Strategy.


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:

  • The Government of Canada invest in expanding the weather and permafrost data stations in Canada?s North that it uses to collect this critical information in support of infrastructure adaptation decision-making needs.
  • The Government of Canada ensure the continued investment in climate science and modelling, and in climate change impacts and adaptation research, taking advantage of partnerships with Arctic research institutes and innovative delivery mechanisms.
  • The Government of Canada dedicate resources to reliably update and disseminate regionally relevant climate data and information, climate change projections, and climate design values to support infrastructure decisions.
  • Governments, the private sector, and research organizations work together to make existing adaptation-relevant scientific and technical data and information more accessible and usable to northern infrastructure practitioners, owners, and operators.

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:

  • Governments continue to support community-based infrastructure-risk reduction through activities such as building awareness of the linkages between disaster management and climate change adaptation, critical infrastructure mapping, and developing and tracking of vulnerability indicators.
  • Governments support regional innovation in Canada's North by encouraging the development of new technologies and materials adapted to cold climates and enabling their commercialization.
  • Governments work together to identify gaps and support regional skills development to address infrastructure needs in a changing northern climate, including ensuring local capacity exists to conduct risk assessments, and deploy and enforce risk reduction measures and standards locally and regionally.
  • Governments, the private sector, communities, and research organizations consider how to further tap into traditional and local knowledge as a unique contributor to building community and regional capacity for adaptation.

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