ONEIA report offers action plan for climate-resilient infrastructure

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The Ontario Environment Industry Association, better known as ONEIA, has released a new report that recommends ways to create climate-resilient infrastructure within the province.

ONEIA, which represents the province’s environment and cleantech companies, formed a working group to tackle the climate challenges ahead for Ontario. The group, a cross-section of leading experts from the consulting engineering and technology sectors, proposed solutions for flooding, wind and ice storms, droughts and drinking water shortages, lower crop yields and failures, forest fires, rail and road disruptions, extreme heat events, and deteriorating air quality.

These extreme weather threats, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, caused insurance payouts from $405 million annually between 1983 to 2008. As climate change effects persisted, the payouts rose to more than $1.8 billion annually from 2009 to 2018.

“Reducing greenhouse gases is important and we need to keep doing that,” announced ONEIA Executive Director Alex Gill, in a statement. “But we urgently need to focus on practical measures to protect our infrastructure and communities from the climate-related disruptions we know are coming. Severe weather events are going to happen no matter what we do, and we need to act now,” added Gill.

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The report’s contributors, including representatives from Stantec, Golder and Englobe, also identified six key areas presenting challenges and opportunities around climate change. These areas include buildings, water, transportation systems, natural infrastructure, risk assessment and investment, and electricity systems.

The report, Resilient Infrastructure, Resilient Economy, Resilient Future: Exploring Ontario’s climate vulnerability and the case for resilience, outlines a series of practical recommendations for Ontario to mitigate threats posed by climate change and maximize the potential economic opportunities at play.

When it comes to buildings, for instance, the report notes that it is significantly cheaper to properly design new builds for the changing climate rather than retrofitting.

“It costs 0%-5% more in up-front costs to design climate resilient buildings than those not built to meet the future challenge,” the report states, adding that the National Building Code and provincial codes should be aligned towards the realities of climate change and its impact on building infrastructure.

In terms of energy infrastructure, the report suggests the development of new programs to support whole building energy consumption and peak demand improvements, including existing building energy audits and the recommissioning of building control systems.

For water infrastructure, the report recommends that Ontario create a digitization policy that supports municipal procurement and reduces the risk from investing in new technologies. Also for water, the report supports a decentralization policy for small, rural, and northern communities to improve the ability to select and invest in updated climate-resilient water systems.

The report also wants to see changes to the Planning Act and other legislation to include the design and expansion of natural infrastructure on private and public lands to mitigate climate risks.

Lastly, the report wants Ontario officials to incorporate some international guidance into its Climate Risk Assessment for Ontario to better support climate risk assessment across various industry sectors.

“Taking positive urgent action to address climate resilient infrastructure will protect communities and build confidence for investors in Ontario,” said Janet Bobechko, a leading climate lawyer at WeirFoulds LLP, in a statement. “Environmental Social Governance measures are increasingly important for investors. Addressing climate resilience in asset management will continue to drive positive investment decisions in Ontario,” she added.

The report was produced by a group of ONEIA members led by Bobechko and Janya Kelly, a climate change specialist with Golder, a member of WSP.

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