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Experts explore business case for building climate and disaster resilient infrastructure

Angela Gismondi
Experts explore business case for building climate and disaster resilient infrastructure
SCREENSHOT — A panel discussion with Paul Kovacs, executive director, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction; Jerome Marty, director, Council of Canadian Academies; and Elise Paré, National Practice Lead Climate Risk & Resilience, WSP focused on opportunities for building climate resilient infrastructure.

There is enormous opportunity for improvement in the way Canadians are managing climate risks, said Paul Kovacs, executive director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, during a recent panel discussion.

The Next Gen Infrastructure Panel: Facing the Resiliency Challenge of Climate Change, was part of the Ontario Environment Industry Association 2022 Environment and Cleantech Business and Policy Forum.

“Some of the research we’re doing at the institute, we find that there’s tens of billions of dollars of direct damage to homes, buildings and infrastructure every year because of climate extremes,” Kovacs explained. “(It’s) preventable in the sense that we have proven scientific solutions that would have eliminated or certainly reduced the damage that we are experiencing if they had been applied before the event occurred.”

Climate risks are going to get worse, he added.

“The science is there, the knowledge is there, we know the right actions to address these risks,” Kovacs said. “Some of the evidence from the newest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that adaptation is taking place.”

While there’s strong evidence about the benefits of taking preventative actions relative to the cost, the even stronger case is for new construction, Kovacs said.

“There is commitment in this province, in Ontario, for many tens of billions of dollars of new infrastructure that’s coming online over the next decade and beyond,” Kovacs noted. “The economic benefits of getting that right when we first make the investment is so overwhelming. Here you get savings, five, 10, 15 times the cost if you do it right when you first put it in place.

“There is an enormous opportunity to do the right thing for both new construction and the maintenance of our existing. Of all the different opportunities, the one that is the clearest case for me in terms of early action is in the area of infrastructure,” he added.

Jerome Marty, director of the Council of Canadian Academies, discussed the Building a Resilient Canada report. Climate related disasters like fires, floods and storms have increased significantly over the last few decades, he noted.

“Resilience is a choice to lower the risk and addressing the root cause of vulnerability and hazard exposure are essential,” Marty said.

He pointed to the situation in B.C. where record breaking rainfall triggered landslides in areas where vegetation had been destroyed by wildfires.

“That is part of new realities for those who are planning and thinking about how to mitigate impacts of these events,” he said.

“The report really makes the case that to increase resilience to disasters we need the whole-society collaborations, all levels that involve government mandates with top-down decisions but also bottom up approaches to really involve communities in the decision-making and the things that will help them to reduce the risk of disasters.”

Elise Pare, national practice lead for climate risk and resilience with WSP, said it is critical to look at providing infrastructure that supports communities, the economy and that will operate as designed throughout its life.

“When we do risk assessments, we look at singular events,” she pointed out, adding cascading events can pose challenges. “What if this one and this one and this one all happened to create the perfect storm? Well we’re in a bit of a different situation at that point.

“We’re dealing with catastrophic events that we don’t necessarily always plan for because we don’t think that the probability of them happening is high enough to invest. That’s where our mindset has to change.”

As for the future, Pare said it’s necessary to look at the co-benefits.

“Let’s look at areas where we are going to create resilient communities, create equitable communities and make sure our services are sustainable for everyone regardless of where you live,” she said. “If you are on a reserve in a remote community, you have the same equitable, sustainable, resilient infrastructure as somebody in downtown Toronto.”

Kovacs said when building infrastructure it’s important to consider that it should be there for the next 50 or 100 years and anticipating the world that will be there in the future.

“All the science is there to do it, all the engineering is there to do it, all the tools are there to do it, we just need to commit that the proper way of managing our public resources, our public funds, on behalf of Canadians is to have that central to the process of managing our infrastructure going forward,” he said.


Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.

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