Developing climate resilient standards and codes
The climate is changing, resulting in:
- hotter temperatures
- frequent severe weather events;
- seasonal temperature changes;
- changes in precipitation;
- and changes in wind patterns;
These changes put Canada’s infrastructure at risk, shortening their intended lifespans and increasing the risk of catastrophic failure. However, many of these risks can be reduced or avoided by making sure infrastructure projects are built to a higher standard and with climate change in mind.
Standards are documents that outline best practice instructions. If followed, different people doing the same task should get the same results. A standard can be mandatory or voluntary. If used correctly, and checked by a third party, a standard can help make sure that best practices are followed, people have the proper skills to do their job, or that a built infrastructure will last for a long time.
It is important to know that currently most building and infrastructure standards either assume a stable climate or include consideration of a historical climate (e.g. the climate of the 1960s). We now know that a stable, reliable climate system is no longer something that can be counted on.
Knowing this, organizations across the world are now updating existing standards or writing new ones to help engineers, construction workers, health care workers, and many others to prepare society for extreme weather and changing climate conditions.
For example, there are now National Standards of Canada that:
- help towns and cities avoid flooding when building new residential areas
- provide owners of wastewater treatment plants with a comprehensive information for design, operation, and retrofit criteria to increase the resilience of such plants
- help protect buildings in Canada’s north from wildfires, increased climate winds, and snow loads
Figure 1 Legend:
- ISO 21930 Sustainability in buildings and civil engineering works
- CSA Z240.10.1:19 Site preparation, foundation, and installation of buildings
- CSA S504:19 Fire resilient planning for northern communities
- BNQ 2501-500 Geotechnical site investigations for building foundations in permafrost zones
- CSA W204:19 Flood resilient design of new residential communities
- CSA Z614:19 Children’s playground equipment and surfacing
- CSA S6:19 Canadian highway bridge design code
- CSA-W202:18 Erosion and sediment control, inspection and monitoring
- CA Z800:18 Guideline on basement flood protection and risk reduction
- ISO 37123 Sustainable cities and communities - Indicators for resilient cities
- C22.1-18 Canadian Electrical Code
Updating codes for climate change
Codes are another pathway for introducing change. Codes are commonly mandated through regulations to govern how a piece of infrastructure is developed so that it is safe.
In Canada, there are several national codes including the:
- National Building Code
- Canadian Electric Code
- National Fire Code
- and National Energy Code for Buildings
The objectives of these codes is to ensure safety, health, accessibility, and structural protection of built infrastructure and the environment. These codes are reviewed and updated at least every five years to ensure they always remain relevant and responsive to new technologies, materials, construction practices, research, social policy and the changing needs of Canadian society.
Obtaining accurate and up-to-date climate information is an important part of the code writing process. Many different climate parameters, or ‘climate design values’ are used to develop new codes and update older ones. These parameters include both long-term average patterns of temperature and precipitation and climatic extremes, like the six hottest hours in July, the largest amount of rain in a 15-minute period, and the maximum wind gust that a structure needs to safely withstand.
New work is currently underway to compute climate design values that take future climatic changes into account. This work, combined with research and guidance by the National Research Council (NRC), will help ensure that designing for climate resilience will very soon be just a regular part of the engineering and design process.
More information and resources
Guidance that informs new standards and codes
Standards are written by experts, but even these experts may need help working with climate change data and integrating climate adaptation and resilience considerations. The Standards Council of Canada (SCC), through its Standards to Support Resilience in Infrastructure Program, and the NRC, through its Climate Resilient Buildings and Core Public Infrastructure (CRBCPI) initiative, have provided research expertise, and engaged academics and other climate change experts to conduct research and develop best practices documents that provide evidence-based recommendations and guidance that can be later used to inform new and updated standards. Outcomes of these initiatives include, for example, guidelines for increasing the flood resilience of Canadian communities (e.g., on coastal hazard risk assessment, flood-resilient buildings,) and a national guide for wildland urban interface design. These documents are often produced more quickly than standards or codes, and can be a useful reference. Topics for this work have ranged from protecting residential homes from flooding and high winds to protecting children from extreme heat in playgrounds.
Examples of these guidance documents can be found by using the “Resource Type” filter and by selecting “codes and standards” in our library of climate resources.
Infrastructure Canada’s Climate Lens
Infrastructure Canada applies a Climate Lens, as a framework to help ensure that government-funded projects demonstrate an ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, take steps to adapt to future climate risks, or both.
Funding applicants that are required to complete a Resilience Assessment under the Climate Lens are to employ a risk management approach to anticipate, prevent, withstand, and prepare to respond and recover from climate change related disruptions or impacts.
To help applicants perform their risk assessments, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Centre for Climate Services has made climate data and information more accessible through the climatedata.ca portal.
To learn more about how to use climate information, refer to the CCCS support desk as well as a set of self-guided training materials on ClimateData.ca.
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