Construction activities and building operations now account for nearly 40 per cent of planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, according to a report from the United Nations Environment Programme.
So, what can Canadian contractors do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fortify existing and new infrastructure against the impacts of climate change? The Canadian Construction Association (CCA) has released a guide to help project owners, designers, and contractors better equip themselves to understand and manage climate impacts now and in the future. The 13-page guide, called Strength, resilience, sustainability: A guide to implementing climate resilience in construction risk management, is a companion piece to an earlier CCA research paper on the issue.
Mary Van Buren, president of the organization, confirms the Canadian construction industry has already implemented many sustainable practices and is eager to continue doing so. However, there are still two significant challenges: a need for government investment and a more supportive environment for fostering innovation within the sector.
“Economic recovery discussions are an opportune time for the government and our industry to partner to ensure that large-scale infrastructure is built with resiliency that can withstand changing weather patterns and events,” noted Van Buren.
The benefits of being proactive on the climate-change front are well documented. For example, an assessment by the Council of Canadian Academies found that more than 75 per cent of associated costs, damages, or disruptions from climate risks to physical infrastructure could potentially be avoided over a 20-year timeframe.
Following are four steps construction companies can take to mitigate climate change.
Identify the risks
The CCA recommends that construction companies take stock of the vulnerabilities inherent in their assets and projects under development. After all, without clearly identifying and documenting asset-specific risks, businesses will not be able to analyze and mitigate them.
For example, climate risks associated with bridges typically include accelerated material degradation from high heat and extreme weather; higher flood levels and more frequent flooding; damage to pavement and railways via heatwaves and intense rain events; higher risk of forest fires; and more violent storms.
The CCA suggests that companies familiarize themselves with the expected climate changes by tapping into climate data on websites such as ClimateData.ca, which provides high-resolution data. Users can query city or town-specific data to view how the prevalence of extreme weather events changes over time.
Mitigate the risks
Risk mitigation involves implementing one or more options. A cyclical process of assessing risk controls allows determining the acceptability of residual risks, generating a new risk treatment if residual risks are not tolerable, and assessing the effectiveness of the treatment.
Response strategies need to be tailored to local and/or regional conditions, such as specific climate and extreme weather projections, regulatory regimes, and the risk tolerance of individual organizations.
There are various options for dealing with risks. They include removing the risk source or eliminating involvement in activities that lead to the possible risk being realized; shifting the burden of the risk to another party through insurance; applying techniques to reduce the likelihood of an occurrence; and accepting the consequences and likelihood of a particular risk.
The CCA states that companies should also keep an open mind to mitigation solutions, ranging from hard engineering solutions to soft solutions like administrative controls.
Implement a framework
While the approach to managing climate risk must be tailored to each organization, the CCA report notes that implementing a framework should feel familiar to most. Climate change is simply an addition to the broader risk management framework that should be already in place to manage financial, operational, and strategic risks.
Organizations should identify a clear executive champion to support the implementation of the climate adaptation framework; establish a climate risk committee; provide sufficient resources for the development of a framework; implement a risk-ranking methodology to identify unacceptable risks; develop action plans to ensure the risks are appropriately managed; and monitor results of an action plan.
Communicate the findings
The CCA recommends that companies also develop an approach to communicate findings with potential clients and project development partners. By developing a robust climate adaptation framework for assessing risks, evaluating impacts, and analyzing mitigation options, the report notes companies can present thoughtful and hopefully persuasive rationales for investing a bit more now to avoid significant costs later.