Future climate data for buildings and infrastructure design now includes the impacts of climate change

- Ottawa, OntarioCanada

Climate change is a significant long-term challenge globally. In Canada, it presents a threat to buildings and core public infrastructure including our buildings, bridges, roads, transit systems, potable water, storm water and sewage systems. This includes the possibility of increases in the location, frequency, and intensity of certain extreme weather events such as rainstorms, flooding and tornadoes that could result in infrastructure damage and failure. The consequences of these potential impacts to infrastructure could include health and safety risks (such as serious or fatal injury), disruptions of essential services, increased costs to infrastructure owners, and unforeseen costs to infrastructure users.

Current approaches used for the design and rehabilitation of Canada's infrastructure are based on historical, often outdated, climatic design data that may not be representative of those that will be experienced in the future as a result of an ever-changing climate. For example, the icing, temperature and humidity design data in the Canadian Highway Bridge Design Code (CHBDC), which had previously been updated in the 1970s, has now been fully updated.

Through the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Infrastructure Canada's Climate-Resilient Buildings and Core Public Infrastructure (CRBCPI) initiative, future-looking climatic data have been developed to support the design of more climate-resilient buildings and infrastructure. The initiative began in 2016, with the understanding that we needed to know more about the effects of climate change on the built environment, and to be able to better assess and quantify future climate conditions in order to adapt Canadian design codes, standards and guides.

Over the past 5 years, the NRC has worked in partnership with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and the Pacific Climate Impact Consortium (PCIC), as well as code experts across Canada, to develop forward-looking climatic data that incorporates the impact of climate change based on the most up-to-date available climate science. The results are available in a report that assesses the impact of climate change on climatic design data in Canada.

This report provides a comprehensive summary of state of the art of climate science and an assessment of how climatic design data relevant to the National Building Code and the Canadian Highway Bridge Design Code might change as the climate continues to change over the 21st century. The information is based on the best available climate change science and models, and includes future projections of temperature, precipitation (rain, snow and ice) and wind data.

Key report findings

  • Canada's climate will likely continue to warm. This means more air conditioning in buildings to address longer, more intense heat waves and greater need to control moisture and humidity.
  • Quantities of extreme precipitation, such as freezing rain leading to ice accretion or daily rainfall amounts, are expected to increase, posing high risk of more damage to buildings and infrastructure.
  • Projected changes in wind loads across Canada are generally thought to be relatively small and uncertain. However, increases in high winds that can have a significant effect on buildings and infrastructure design cannot be ruled out in certain locations. The wind load in Toronto, for example, is projected to increase by more than 13% in the model simulations used in the report.

Understanding these types of climatic changes will be critical to how Canadian infrastructure is designed and retrofit moving forward.

This is the first future climatic data in the world that considers the impacts of climate change for the design of buildings and infrastructure. The assessment and data covers over 660 locations across Canada and will be a key resource for Canadian building codes, standards, guidelines and practitioners. It also highlights the importance of updating historical climate data to establish a robust baseline against which future climate change data are compared.

"We are proud to know that Canada is a leader in this work, and to share our findings with our partners in other countries, including the United States, New Zealand and Australia, as we work together to adapt our respective building codes and standards to changing climate conditions."

Fiona Hill, Manager, Climate-Resilient Buildings and Core Public Infrastructure Initiative

Last fall, NRC officials were also featured speakers at a virtual workshop hosted by the U.S. National Institute for Science and Technology to discuss climate science data, models and tools to support standards, buildings codes and the needs of the building regulatory community.

This work on Canadian climate data, under the Climate-Resilient Buildings and Core Public Infrastructure initiative, was completed as part of the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. These findings will support the construction of buildings and infrastructure that are resilient to climate change in Canada, and allow us to continue to share our knowledge with global partners.

Learn more about the Technical summary of report findings.