Need your infrastructure project shovel ready? Think ahead with a Climate Lens Assessment
June 09, 2020
June 09, 2020
What is a Climate Lens Assessment?
If you’re a Canadian municipality or not-for-profit organization looking to have your infrastructure projects “shovel ready” in the post-pandemic world, you may want to think ahead and prepare a Climate Lens Assessment.
During this unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, our economy has been derailed and unemployment levels have skyrocketed. Among many other initiatives to support Canadians, the Government of Canada has indicated that it will help to fuel the economy and bolster an economic recovery by funding infrastructure projects. As a result, many municipalities and not-for-profit organizations are looking to get their projects “shovel ready” as we await funding details from the government.
In the summer of 2018, the Government of Canada announced that new major infrastructure funding under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Plan (ICIP), the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF), or the Smart Cities Challenge, will be required to assess how their projects will contribute to or reduce carbon pollution. An assessment will also be completed to consider climate change risks in the location, design, and operations plan of a project. This is known as the the Climate Lens Assessment.
A Climate Lens assessment has two components:
For the first component of the assessment, we would look at the projected emissions from a project and identify potential ways to reduce those emissions overall. For example, if you’re looking at a major upgrade or expansion of an existing facility, we would consider the HVAC equipment, glazing on the windows, and even the number and type of construction vehicles proposed to be on site to gauge the anticipated GHG emissions impact.
In the second component of the assessment, we look at the current and future climate risks that this facility or asset will be exposed to during its service life. We ask: What are the risks that the designers should consider in order to make the facility more resilient during its service?
A Climate Lens Assessment is not only required to receive federal funding for certain infrastructure projects, it will ensure that your asset—whether built or natural, a building, a bridge, or a wetland—can withstand the impacts of climate change.
For example, let’s look at a facility like a Community Centre that typically has a 30-year life span. We assess what the climate is projected to be in those 30 years and what are the risks to the asset associated with extreme weather. However when we’re evaluating a bridge, the Canadian highway bridge design code states that bridges must be designed to have a life span of 75 years. So we would analyze the climate of the 75-year service life—or longer—of that asset.
For very short-lived assets, the climate projections would not be so different from what we experience today. But for longer life assets, such as municipal core public infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and water or wastewater treatment systems, they have a much longer service life and will be impacted.
The Climate Resilience Assessment may inform your design team to increase the capacity or configuration of the drainage system to handle more intense rainfall events in the future. Or it will force you to plan additional space in the facility for larger air conditioning equipment needed in the future to deal with increased occurrences of longer and hotter heat waves.
A Climate Resilience Assessment can also help you assess how climate change could impact the operations and maintenance (O&M) of the asset. We know that, over the life cycle of an asset, the capital investment makes up just 20% of the total cost, while the other 80 per cent goes toward operations, maintenance, and repairs. We want to help a municipality or utility understand how these costs could increase in the future as a result of climate change and how to mitigate risks.
In a recent climate risks assessment, we found that maintaining the assets in a state of good repair reduced climate risks by up to 30%. Activities such as inspections and repairs after extreme events restore the capacity of the asset to provide the service and be resilient to the next storm. Climate change may also impact your staff: people working outdoors to do maintenance may be exposed to hotter and longer heat waves, stronger winds, Lyme decease-carrying ticks, or giant hogweed. As a result, they will need additional resources for protective equipment and procedures.
The key to producing an accurate, effective, and actionable Climate Lens Assessment is to consider both design and O&M, and to bring together a multi-disciplinary team that understands both. This approach ensured the success of our recent assessment at an airport here in Canada.
For this project, we looked at how to reduce GHG emissions on the runways and, in parallel, we also performed a climate risk assessment. One proposal to reduce emissions was to put LED lights on the runways to reduce energy consumption. This seemed like a straightforward solution. But, because we had the operations team participating and weighing in, they saw a problem with LEDs. The operations team pointed out that incandescent lights produce heat. So, when small amounts of snow and ice fall on the runways, they melt. Because LED lights are cool lights, the operations team would need to send crews to clear snow and ice more frequently—and the emissions from their vehicles would offset any GHG savings provided by the LEDs. This is an example of how bringing all sides together during an assessment (owners, designers and operators) produces effective solutions.
As you can see, there is no “one size fits all” solution when completing a Climate Lens Assessment. The climate parameters and intensity thresholds in the assessment must be relevant to the facility or asset that we are working on. The time horizons selected for future climate projections in the assessment must also match the expected service life of the assets.
For example, heavy rain may have huge impacts on a storm water management system but may have no impacts whatsoever on a building envelope of a facility. So, we need to be able to identify those climate events and their intensities that will cause service disruptions or asset failure. The only way to do that is to collaborate with people, talk to the local experts within your organization, then perform our analysis.
A Climate Lens Assessment is not only required to receive federal funding for certain infrastructure projects, it will ensure that your asset—whether built or natural, a building, a bridge, or a wetland—can withstand the impacts of climate change. Too often, infrastructure owners see the Climate Lens Assessment as an afterthought. But by being proactive, you’ll have a project that’s one step closer to being “shovel ready”, as well as a stronger, more resilient asset.
To learn more about the Climate Lens and how to apply the assessment to your project, contact me.