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CPCS calls for swift action to fund implementation of Canada’s National Adaptation Strategy

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CPCS applauds the comprehensive, ambitious National Adaptation Strategy (NAS), and encourages continued and increased financial backing from higher levels of government to drive real transformational change to infrastructure, particularly at the municipal level.

In brief:

  • Climate-related disasters will continue to adversely impact Canada’s infrastructure.

  • Climate change considerations must become an integral part of infrastructure consulting advice.

  • To achieve the National Adaptation Strategy’s goals, provincial and municipal governments must build capacity for climate change adaptation in infrastructure planning. The federal government must provide additional financing tools and funding support to realize the strategy’s ambitions.

  • Quick action is crucial, but it must balance the urgency of adaptation with the need for careful, emissions-minimizing infrastructure investments.

Aligning strategies to achieve national climate goals

The big picture: Impacts on infrastructure from floods, wildfires, landslides, ice storms and tornadoes have been devastating in 2023. It will only get worse.

Why it matters: Much of Canada’s infrastructure is owned and operated at the municipal level. Yet, local governments have limited budgets and few financial (taxation) tools to pay for much needed climate change adaptation activities.

Building capacity and technical know-how at lower levels of government is also a critical precursor to implementing such activities.

For these reasons, the federal and provincial governments need to recognize their role in helping support municipal governments to realize the goals and targets in the National Adaptation Strategy.

Prioritizing climate change adaptation

“Money is needed to build capacity at all levels of government,” says Elizabeth Drake, climate change practice leader at CPCS. “People need the skills and training to know how to identify problem areas and understand solutions. But money is also needed to physically pay for the work that needs to be done, such as building roads and tunnels in a different way, or changing how infrastructure is powered, for example.”

“One of the most significant challenges with climate change adaptation investments – such as reinforcing a tunnel for potential flood prevention – is that costs are unlikely to result in any increased revenues and in some cases may not even guarantee economic benefits.

You’re effectively spending money now to prevent a potential significant loss of economic benefits in the future. This mismatch between financial outlays and economic benefits is hard for any government to stomach.”

For Tiphany Monplaisir, a CPCS senior consultant specialized in sustainable infrastructure, “time is of the essence. Incremental adaptation isn’t going to be enough to get us where we need to be, even if the NAS acknowledges that. But we’re now faced with the challenge of adapting quickly at large scales, while balancing what can realistically be done.”

All levels of government have different priorities, as do the different parts of the country, but they all need to recognize and act on the urgency.

Yes, but: Is the timing too slow?

The National Adaptation Strategy says that “by 2030, 80% of public and municipal organizations have factored climate change adaptation into their decision-making processes.” That target is late to begin thinking – as solutions can take another five to 10 years to implement.

“Fast action is needed, but the risk of going too fast is that we do things that don’t work or actually have a negative effect on other things like mitigation (reducing emissions),” says Elizabeth.

Any form of major infrastructure investment comes with associated greenhouse gas emissions – from resource extraction, construction activities, and operations. Adaptation investments need to be done right to keep such emissions to a minimum.

Climate change advisory at CPCS

Elizabeth is clear: “A good firm can no longer, in good conscience, provide infrastructure consulting advice to its clients without including a climate change lens.”

“We know our clients face many competing pressures, and at CPCS, we’re supporting them in integrating climate change factors while thinking through such pressures.”

For example, CPCS recently advised the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) on how climate change is expected to affect public transit (passenger rail and bus) and the associated adaptation and resiliency considerations. We gave CSA insights climate change challenges facing public transit today, longer-term potential impacts, how stakeholders are adapting, and the role of standards in addressing these issues and risks.

Bottom line

To realize the goals and targets in the National Adaptation Strategy, two parallel things need to happen:

  • Provincial and municipal governments need to continue to build their internal capacity to integrate climate change adaptation into their infrastructure planning and delivery, which will create additional costs but no additional revenues.

  • The federal government must recognize that additional financing tools and funding support will be required to support these lower levels of government in implementing the NAS ambitions.

About the National Adaptation Strategy

Announced in June 2023 by Canada’s federal government, with support from all provinces and territories, the NAS is a framework for a national approach to climate change adaptation and commits $2 billion to implementation. A key feature of the NAS is building and maintaining resilient infrastructure.

National Adaptation Strategy’s infrastructure goals

  • Update or develop technical standards, planning and decision-making processes to embed climate change in decisions to locate, plan, design, manage, adapt, operate and maintain infrastructure systems across their lifecycle.

  • Inform public and private infrastructure decision-making by systemwide assessments of, and planning for, current and emerging climate change risks.

  • Prioritize benefits for marginalized populations and communities most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

  • Apply resilience criteria and adopt climate change guidance, standards, and future design data in all new infrastructure investments to maximize the long-term benefits of infrastructure outcomes.

Go deeper: The NAS Action Plan’s Infrastructure section details funding, standards, and actions.

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