Frequent floods. Sudden wildfires. Devastating droughts. Permafrost melt. These are Canada's everyday realities driven by a global increase in temperature as a result of a dramatic climate change.
These new realities also put buildings and public infrastructure at risk. Towers, bridges, roads, water and wastewater systems, energy transmission and transit systems are built using codes and standards based on historic weather and climate data – not today's.
Fortunately, science is poised to help us adapt to the changing landscape. Canada is providing guidance, tools and standards to ensure long-lasting infrastructure projects, including retrofits and upgrades, to help communities build resilience, reduce disaster risks and conserve costs over the long term. This will ensure that both new and existing structures continue to support the health, safety and prosperity of Canadians in current and future climates.
"The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) is uniquely positioned to undertake such a forward-looking initiative," says Marianne Armstrong, Initiative Lead, Climate Resilient Buildings and Core Public Infrastructure (CRBCPI). "We have lengthy experience in infrastructure and building science, and can leverage internationally recognized research capabilities and facilities."
Onsite, the NRC can test and monitor a wide array of infrastructure systems, among them wastewater systems, building façades and roofs, and bridges. "We can also conduct research in ocean, coastal and river engineering to prevent flooding, and apply the latest knowledge in the fire science domain to mitigate the impacts of wildfire," Armstrong adds.
Building a culture of resilience
Recognition of these issues led to the CRBCPI initiative, which ran from 2016 to 2021. With $42.5 million in funding from Infrastructure Canada (INFC), and led by the NRC, its activities supported the Government of Canada's Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.
Working with more than 200 collaborators, the NRC developed practical tools to help the Canadian construction industry meet future challenges. Partners included federal, provincial, territorial and municipal government departments, national and international experts from academia, engineering consulting firms, industry, non-profit organizations and the climate science community.
The partners enhanced and integrated climate resilience into codes, standards, guidance and life-cycle-based decision support tools for roads, water and wastewater systems, bridges, rail transit and buildings. These tools will help ensure buildings and core public infrastructure are designed and built to withstand the effects of climate change in Canada – and reduce risk to Canadians.
These successful collaborations over the 5-year term are already having a positive impact. For example, the partners:
- developed future-looking climatic design data for 660+ locations across Canada, which helps building and infrastructure designers integrate resilience to drastic climates and extreme weather events
- enabled the publication of 5 new Canadian standards, including the first of its kind in the world for leak-free roofs: "Performance Requirements for Climate Resilience of Low Slope Membrane Roofing Systems"
- generated 50 proposals for changes to the Canadian Electrical (CE) Code – five of these were implemented in the 2021 edition
- published the first National Guide for wildland-urban interface (WUI) fires
- increased the resilience of new and existing buildings through research on preventing overheating, and enhancing building envelope resilience
- improved the resilience of new and existing infrastructure through updates to the 2019 and 2025 Canadian Highway Bridge Design Code (HBDC), which had been based partly on 1970s climate data; the new code has the potential to influence 175 projects per year in Ontario alone
- trained the next generation of practitioners and researchers through collaborations with universities
Strengthening the foundation
A cost-benefit study (PDF, 1 MB) by the Institute of Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) and SPA Risk LLC showed that ultimately, complying with the guidance documents developed by the CRBCPI initiative would cost an estimated $400 million in added construction costs, but could save Canada an estimated $4.7 billion per year of new construction. This potential return on investment represents a savings of almost $12 for every $1 invested.
CRBCPI's success has strengthened NRC's partnership with INFC and generated an additional $35M over 5 years for collaborations to build on the foundational work and success of the initiative. This will add to the knowledge and international network of expertise acquired during the CRBCPI initiative, and continue to support the the integration of climate resilience in public infrastructure by informing building codes and standardized guidance documents.
In the end, it will provide Canada's construction sector with the tools, knowledge and capacity to enable critical resilience to tomorrow's extreme weather events.
"CRBCPI and our continuing work on these issues have significantly advanced the field of climate change adaptation for public infrastructure," concludes Armstrong. "They also solidify the NRC's position as a world leader in this arena."