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Transport Canada invests in climate risk assessments, but other government departments still have long way to go in assessing climate threats

2017.10.17

Transport Canada announced last week that it is investing up to $16.35 million over five years in the Transportation Assets Risk Assessment initiative, which focuses on climate risk assessments of federal transportation assets.

“Our transportation infrastructure is critical to the Canadian economy,” said the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport. “That is why we are taking steps to improve our understanding of climate change-related risks and vulnerabilities. Ultimately, this will allow us to strengthen the resilience of our federal transportation assets.”

Transportation and warehousing are critical to Canada’s economy, representing 4.5 per cent of total GDP in 2016, yet climate change and extreme weather events can damage transportation infrastructure such as roads, bridges, rail links, ports, and airports, which can cause costly travel and transport delays, and undermine the safety of the transportation system.

The Transportation Assets Risk Assessment initiative will help the department better understand climate risks to these assets and potential adaptation solutions that could be employed. This information will then support investment and asset management decisions, and will ultimately help to strengthen the resilience of those assets, reduce future costs, and minimize disruptions from climate change impacts.

This $16.35 million investment comes on the heels of the release of the Environment Commissioner’s autumnal annual report, which found that the federal government is not prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change on more than $66 billion of federal assets.

The report, released by Commissioner Julie Gelfand on October 2, 2017, found that only five of the 19 federal government departments that the report considered had assessed risks from climate change on their assets, and how best to address them.

Transport Canada, however, was held as the gold standard in both assessing risk and preparing to mitigate for it, as demonstrated by the investment in the Transportation Assets Risk Assessment initiative.

Yet with 14 government departments not having a complete understanding of the risks posed by climate change to their assets, Gelfand concluded that the federal government could not demonstrate that it was making progress in adapting to a changing climate and that stronger federal leadership is needed.

In recent years, Engineers Canada has been advocating for more infrastructure climate risk and vulnerability assessments in its interactions with the federal government. This advocacy has been based on the results of applying the Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee (PIEVC) Protocol, a structured climate risk and vulnerability assessment tool developed by Engineers Canada in partnership with Natural Resources Canada, over the last decade. The Protocol has been used to assess nearly 50 infrastructures of various types across Canada, including three northern airports in collaboration with Transport Canada.

“The Protocol gives engineers, geoscientists, as well as infrastructure owners and managers, a tool and process to inform the design, construction, operation and maintenance of infrastructure that will withstand current and future extreme weather events, while also taking into account expected future climate changes,” said David Lapp, FEC, P.Eng., IRP, Engineers Canada’s Practice Lead, Sustainable Development and Globalization. “I commend the Federal government for investing in the development of the Protocol and supporting its subsequent application by all three levels of government that own and operate infrastructure. I hope that it will be used even more as Federal government departments who own and operate infrastructure on behalf of Canadians invest in assessing the risk that extreme weather and climate change poses to those assets.”