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Climate Change and Engineering

What is climate change?

Climate change is a significant and lasting change in weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It includes:

  • changes to temperature, precipitation and other climate parameters
  • changes in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes and flash storms

For example, in northern Canada climate effects on permafrost, ice-cover and snow loads are already apparent.

Why is climate change important for engineers?

Much of Canada’s infrastructure has been in place for many years with designs based on existing climate patterns. With the effects of a changing climate, these designs need to be revisited to improve safety and protection for Canadians. Engineers, under their professional code of ethics, need to be involved in addressing the impacts of changing climate on infrastructure design and operations because it affects public safety and public interest.

Public safety impacts:

  • Disruption of life
  • Injury
  • Loss of life
  • Relocation

Public interest impacts:

  • Business disruption and loss of employment
  • Damage and destruction to infrastructure
  • Environmental impact
  • High costs of repairs and replacement

Why is Engineers Canada involved with climate change?

Many engineers were not taught this material in their education program. Furthermore, climate change is:

  • a broad issue which affects a large number of engineers
  • an issue of concern to all levels of government
  • an issue which affects the design, operation and maintenance of infrastructure
  • a public, national and international issue

How is Engineers Canada involved with climate change?

Engineers Canada works in partnership with all levels of government, other professions and industry to:

  • research climate change issues
  • understand the impacts of climate change on engineering practice
  • understand the impacts of climate change for engineers
  • propose adjustments to practice with regard to climate change
  • share this knowledge with practising engineers

Engineers Canada developed a risk management approach in partnership with Natural Resources Canada. In this collaboration, which extends to partnerships with municipal, provincial and federal government owners of public infrastructure, Engineers Canada provides ongoing Secretariat and manages the processes for a national committee that supports the following organizations:

What work does Engineers Canada do with the Public Infrastructure Environmental Vulnerability Committee with regard to climate change?

Engineers Canada has undertaken work to develop an infrastructure climate risk procedure known as the PIEVC Engineering Protocol. This work was co-sponsored by Natural Resources Canada. The Protocol is a mature, robust tool at a screening level for engineers and other professionals to assess infrastructure vulnerability to current and future climate. This work facilitates collaboration with municipal, provincial and federal owners of infrastructure to:

  • determine current and future climate risks through assessments of existing public infrastructures
  • review Canadian design and construction codes, standards and related instruments for infrastructure
  • work with climate scientists and Environment Canada on climate information needs for the engineering community
  • work with other professional groups to define and address climate risks and adaptation strategies

Does Engineers Canada work directly with the engineering regulatory bodies with regard to climate change?

Engineers Canada performs a communication role in partnership with the provincial and territorial engineering regulatory bodies to:

  • educate about the topic to the engineering community, planners and management
  • deliver locally organized professional development workshops
  • communicate risks to owners, regulators and operators
  • communicate solutions that improve climate resilience of infrastructure
  • define professional and legal liabilities
  • define ethical obligations
  • share and develop practice guidelines

What international work does Engineers Canada do with regard to climate change?

Engineers Canada extends its work on climate change internationally through hosting and chairing the World Federations of Engineering Organizations’ (WFEO) Standing Committee on Engineering and the Environment (WFEO-CEE) until December 2015. Through this committee, the PIEVC Engineering Protocol has been applied to assess climate risks to infrastructures in Costa Rica and Honduras.

For more information

For more information contact David Lapp, Practice Lead, Globilization and Sustainable Development at david.lapp@engineerscanada.ca