National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy

National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy

November 26, 2009 00:01 ET

Northern Infrastructure Not Ready for Climate Change, Concludes NRTEE

Report Recommends Updating Construction Codes, Better Climate and Weather Data and Northern Inclusion in Adaptation Solutions

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Nov. 26, 2009) - Infrastructure and communities in Canada's North are unprepared to cope effectively with the looming threat that climate change poses to roads, buildings, industrial waste sites, energy and other critical infrastructure, according to a new report from the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.

"Canada's North is on the frontline of climate change", stated the NRTEE, requiring a comprehensive effort to ensure infrastructure and communities become more ready to adapt to expected climate changes leading to degrading permafrost, melting ice roads, storm surges and coastal erosion.

Among its 16 recommendations, True North: Adapting Infrastructure to Climate Change in Northern Canada, suggests updating construction and engineering codes and standards, providing better weather and permafrost data and information, examining changes to the insurance system, and leveraging federal infrastructure funding to ensure that new infrastructure will be built with the changing climate in mind.

The report comes just as the world's nations meet in Copenhagen to discuss how best to work together to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which are blamed for Arctic phenomena like degrading permafrost, melting sea ice and changes in precipitation patterns. But, while reducing carbon emissions is critical over the long term, the NRTEE emphasizes that adaptation at the local level is critical now in dealing with effects of climate change that appear unavoidable.

The report is available on the NRTEE website at www.nrtee-trnee.ca/true-north.

"Climate change is moving fastest in Arctic areas, requiring Canada to be a world leader in adaptation practices, more than we had even contemplated," said Round Table Chair Bob Page. "We believe our report fills an important niche for the federal government in implementing its Northern Strategy."

The report notes that winter roads melting earlier in the spring can force communities to airlift supplies, while melting permafrost can destabilize foundations for buildings. Moreover, increased snowfall and changing ice conditions will add stress to buildings, and energy and communications infrastructure that were built for different snow and ice conditions. Permafrost degradation can also undermine airport runways and roads. Storm surges put coastal communities at risk and may require relocation of infrastructure.

The Round Table found that national codes and standards pay inadequate attention to northern interests and conditions, and that significant gaps exist in the availability and accessibility of data that forms the basis for infrastructure risk management and loss prevention. The NRTEE also found that capacity across northern jurisdictions to assess climate risks to infrastructure is uneven and lacking. An absence of coordinated strategies can result in piecemeal responses from various governments that can be ineffective and costly.

"From buildings to roads, from airports to pipelines, infrastructure is essential to modern, secure communities," said NRTEE President and CEO David McLaughlin. "This new study of northern infrastructure by the NRTEE offers practical advice to make infrastructure more resilient and less vulnerable to climate change."

The NRTEE examined the role of three key mechanisms that can be utilized to manage risk to infrastructure:

1. Codes, standards and related instruments that set down requirements for construction, maintenance and other infrastructure requirements;

2. Insurance policies that can provide incentives to adjust premiums to reduce risk and;

3. Disaster management policies that can increase preparedness and capacity for communities to prevent and cope with disasters.

Some of the highlights from the NRTEE's 16 recommendations include;

- National codes and standards for engineering and construction should be reviewed and modified to accommodate risks of climate change.

- The Government of Canada should adjust funding vehicles for infrastructure development and rehabilitation so that they become incentives to integrate the risk of damage from climate change in infrastructure decisions.

- Governments and the insurance industry need to work together so that insurance products encourage modifications to infrastructure in light of climate risks and are affordable.

- Governments at all levels should collaborate with northern experts to develop the best possible design and engineering guidelines for the North.

- The Government of Canada should invest in updating and providing more comprehensive climate data, climate change projections, and information for infrastructure design.

- The Government of Canada needs to share the expertise and experience of Canada's North in addressing climate risks to infrastructure with other polar nations as part of Canada's Northern Strategy.

True North forms part of Canada's contribution to the International Polar Year, 2007-2008, a large international scientific program focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic.

The NRTEE consulted with more than 100 stakeholders including infrastructure experts, federal, provincial and territorial government officials, Northern residents, and Aboriginal representatives during its research.

The NRTEE is an independent federal government agency with a mandate to research and advise on sustainable development issues of importance to Canada and Canadians.

For more information or for interviews with NRTEE Chair Bob Page, NRTEE President David McLaughlin or NRTEE Vice-chair Francine Dorion, please contact Brian Laghi.

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