Learning how to keep it together: Canada's infrastructure and climate adaptation

Monday, June 10, 2013

After Washington State’s Skagit River Bridge collapsed last month, the state of both Canada’s and the U.S.’s infrastructure has been brought to the spotlight. The Seattle Times reported shortly after the incident that 759 bridges in Washington actually have worse sufficiency scores than the bridge that collapsed.  Canada’s infrastructure is not faring any better. A January 2013 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) found that a chronic underinvestment in Canada’s infrastructure since the 1960s has meant that Canada is missing $145 billion worth of infrastructure. According to the CCPA, an additional $20-30 billion per year for ten years would be needed to make up this gap. 

An added complexity to this underinvestment problem is the uncertainty around how climate change will affect infrastructure. According to a report by the Climate Change Adaptation Project out of the University of Waterloo, increased precipitation appears to be a major concern, referencing the destructive 2010 hailstorm in Calgary as indicative of this trend. The report goes on to explain that Canada’s Adaptation Advisory Committee placed city infrastructure at the top of the list of 24 areas that require the most attention for climate change adaptation and emphasizes that any infrastructure investments must start to take into account climate projects and climate models. Among the report’s recommendations is that cities integrate adaptation planning into city planning policy.

This may be an overwhelming proposition in many communities across Canada. A lack of funding and a lack of capacity mean communities are strapped for resources – both financial and personnel – to take on an additional responsibility. A new course, developed by FCM and the Canadian Standards Association, hopes to support local governments in doing adaptation planning. Geared specifically to elected officials, municipal staff, and professional service providers, this 8-hour online course will cover key concepts and principles associated with climate change; identify how climate change may impact infrastructure at the local level; and use case studies to show how flooding, sea level rise, drought, wind storms, etc. can be addressed at the municipal level.