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CAC OpEd on Facing the Challenge of Adapting to Climate Change in Canada

OpEd Submitted to National Post
Michael McSweeney
President and CEO Cement Association of Canada
November 4 2013

Facing the Challenge of Adapting to Climate Change in Canada

While uncertainty remains about the specific impacts of climate change, nature has already given us a taste. From the dramatic floods in Calgary and Toronto earlier this year, to the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy last year, the impacts of extreme weather could not be more clear. Nor could the scope of their costs, estimated at over $3.5 billion for the Toronto and Calgary floods and $65 billion for Hurricane Sandy.

Now is the time to plan for these events and to build resilience - our capacity to withstand, recover and continue to thrive in the wake of sudden shocks - into the way we think about our future. The United States has already taken steps in this direction, with President Obama issuing an executive order last Friday that directs federal agencies to work with states to build “resilience” against major storms and other weather extremes.

Here at home, our cities are already at the forefront of this conversation. Some already recognize that adapting to climate change is essential. The City of Toronto's Planning Division made resilience one of the three core themes of its 2013 Chief Planner Roundtable initiative, noting that "Building urban resilience is not an option for a city like Toronto: it is an imperative".

Smart cities are looking for opportunities for “no regrets” investments that improve lives today while providing a measure of security against the uncertainty that lies ahead. Improving water and solid waste management, implementing energy-saving smart grid technology, or adding options for rapid transit also increase the safety, efficiency, livability and vibrancy of cities every day.

At a time when huge investments are being made to repair and expand Canada's aging infrastructure, we need to recalibrate our assumptions about how to design and build our roads, bridges, utilities, hospitals, housing and even parking lots to prepare for uncertainties. And while hard infrastructure is only one a part of what makes cities resilient, it forms the backbone of what keeps our communities safe and prosperous.

A report by the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development, "Climate Change Adaptation and Canadian Infrastructure” is a timely invitation to raise the profile of resilience and of the need to begin integrating the concept of resilience into the planning, design and construction of our infrastructure.

The IISD report, published with support from the Cement Association of Canada, is being released this week. It summarizes peer-reviewed literature dealing with the challenge of adapting to climate change in Canada, with a particular focus on the country’s infrastructure. Four key messages emerge:

  1. Climate change has the potential to substantially affect the lifespan and effectiveness of Canada’s infrastructure, particularly our transportation, buildings, marine and water management infrastructure, at substantial economic costs.
  2. Measures can be taken to limit costs and strengthen the resiliency of infrastructure - the report documents a number of key policy, regulatory, and financial tools for consideration.
  3. While a significant amount of research and planning has been done, most supporting policies and regulatory changes remain nascent and investments have not yet fundamentally shifted.
  4. Recent climate events in Canada and abroad have galvanized calls for action at the local, regional and national levels, providing a key opportunity for industry actors to get engaged in the resiliency conversation now.

At the Cement Association of Canada, we believe the IISD report is an important contribution to the start of a dialogue to find ways to develop concrete means to lead to a more climate-resilient future , one that promotes solutions that balance qualities that we value today, like safety and energy efficiency, while also offering a measure of security against the uncertainties that come with climate change.

The paper is also available on the IISD and rediscoverconcrete websites.


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