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Reports delve into concrete's role in infrastructure renewal

Myron Love

A recent report by the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) on the role of concrete in Canadian infrastructure adaptation to changing climatic conditions was scheduled to be delivered to the Cement Association of Canada in early April.

This new report is a follow-up to an earlier IISD report (last November) — published with support from the Cement Association of Canada.

“Our first report received quite a positive response,” said Maxine Cunningham, one of the authors of Climate Change Adaption and Canadian Infrastructure; A Review of the Literature.

It provided an overview of the potential effects of climate changes on Canadian infrastructure and current government response at the federal, provincial and territorial levels.

“Our new report looks at the specific role that concrete may play in adaptation of infrastructure to climate change.  We have included several case studies.”

In the earlier report, Michael McSweeney, president and CEO of the Cement Association of Canada, stated their case.

“The cement and concrete industry is committed to being a proactive partner in addressing the challenges of mitigating and adapting to climate change,” he said.

“We are in an age of massive re-investment in our basic infrastructure in Canada, and this presents an enormous opportunity to both mitigate climate change through reduced CO2 emissions as well as prepare ourselves for the changes in our climate that are already underway. In supporting the publication of this report, we’ve taken a modest step towards engaging in the development of a new way of thinking and planning for climate resiliency in Canada’s infrastructure investments.”

The earlier report provided an overview of the potential effect of a changing climate on every region of Canada and where each province and territory, as well as the federal government, currently stand on addressing the issue.

The November report concludes that “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; and that 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.

“While there has been a significant amount of research and planning done,” note the report’s authors Cunningham, Jessica Boyle and Julie Dekens, “most supporting policies and regulatory changes remain nascent and investments have not yet fundamentally shifted.”

IISD president Scott Vaughan  weighed in.

“Climate change matters for Canada’s infrastructure, and adapting to its effects will require commitments by both the private and public sectors,” he said.

“By supporting IISD research that assesses the opportunities and risks, CAC has taken a key first step towards the broader discussions and work ahead.”

Adam Auer, the CAC’s director of sustainable development, said that the association was quite happy with the earlier report.

“It laid the groundwork for beginning the conversation on taking into account climate change in planning for future infrastructure projects,” he said.

“Major municipalities across Canada have already begun the task of adapting their infrastructure renewal plans to better integrate resiliency in the face of climate change.”

He noted that smaller municipalities with more limited budgets have a greater challenge in dealing with infrastructure renewal and the affects of a changing climate.

As for the second report, Cunningham pointed out that she and her co-authors cited examples of New York City builders using concrete, rather than more combustible materials, in a number of structures and the use of stronger, more resilient concrete in Japan to replace structures that were damaged or destroyed in the tsunami.

In British Columbia, concrete is being used to build higher dikes, she reported.

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