Climate change adaptation efforts unfolding

Climate change adaptation efforts unfolding

Canadian government urges participation in newly finalized resilience strategy
Monday, July 17, 2023

Canada’s newly finalized climate change adaptation strategy sets out objectives and attaches mid- to near-term targets for five key action areas: disaster resilience; health and well-being; nature and biodiversity; infrastructure; and the economy and workforce. Collectively, they encompass a broad sweep of human, natural and structural assets to be reinforced for a wide range of increasingly extreme and volatile climate-related possibilities.

“Although climate change affects communities differently, it is undeniable that our new climate reality is affecting us all,” asserts Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault. “In the context of record-breaking wildfires across the country, record hurricanes like Fiona and record floods in British Columbia, this strategy is needed now, more than ever, to establish a shared vision of our future.”

While infrastructure may be the most obvious adaptation concern for commercial real estate, other elements of the strategy have implications for risk management, building operations, development lands and the industry’s many professional services. For example, hazard mapping and insurance contingencies fall under disaster resilience; cooling and air filtration align with health and well-being; urban tree canopy is prioritized in nature and biodiversity; and the responsive expertise needed across real estate’s property management, operations, leasing/brokerage and investment functions is embedded in the economy and workforce.

In his introduction to the strategy, Guilbeault calls it “a whole-of-society blueprint” for identifying climate-related vulnerabilities and preparing to respond, but it contains many aspirational components earmarked for yet-to-be-confirmed delivery agents. The federal government has set out its own list of 73 measures to guide and prompt adaptation in a companion plan, while the strategy calls for complementary provincial/territorial efforts and suggests roles for municipal governments, Indigenous communities, the private sector and non-governmental organizations.

“By working together, we can mitigate, prepare for, respond to and expedite recovery from emergencies as we continue to strengthen our resilience,” urges Bill Blair, Canada’s Minister of Emergency Preparedness.

The federal government reports it has invested about $6.5 billion in climate change adaptation since 2015. That includes a $2 billion injection of funding committed in November 2022 when the preliminary version of the national adaptation strategy was released for consultation. The final version, released in late June, comes with some tweaks to the government’s initial slate of 68 action measures, including added emphasis on: infrastructure and related codes and standards; supply chain issues; resilience to wildfires; flood risk awareness; and health impacts of extreme heat.

Convincing paybacks foreseen for investments in the built environment

Improved resilience of the built environment is one of the strategy’s fundamental goals. That’s connected to upgrades to critical public infrastructure, policies and regulations to govern the performance and location of buildings, and rules or enticements to shape private investors’ decision-making.

Near-term targets include ensuring that climate change resilience is factored into all new federal infrastructure funding programs by next year, and incorporating resilience considerations into the National Building Code, Canadian Highway Bridge Design Code and Canadian Electrical Code by 2026. Among the broader objectives, the strategy envisions that public and private asset managers will come to rely on a range of guidance about climate change risks and resilience considerations in their development, acquisition, repositioning and dispositioning plans.

The federal government highlights seven initiatives related to climate resilience in the built environment. The disaster mitigation and adaptation fund (DMAF) to support infrastructure upgrade projects, and the national trades corridor fund, which more specifically applies to airports, ports, railways and transportation facilities, account for a large chunk of the promised spending. As well, there are funds targeted to infrastructure, facilities and capital maintenance in Indigenous communities.

Other funding is allocated for research and pilot projects “to integrate and accelerate the uptake of climate resilience in building and infrastructure design, asset management tools, guides, codes and standards” and for the development of standards to support wider understanding and uptake of climate change resilience in building and infrastructure design. The National Research Council and the Standards Council of Canada are tasked with developing “practical and targeted guidance” related to mitigating flooding risks, along with “interactive knowledge products” and training for municipal building officials, design professionals and procurement teams.

The strategy cites the Canadian Climate Institute’s estimates that $1 invested in climate change adaptation yields up to $15 in avoided expense related to climate change impacts. Notably, the benefit-cost ratio for the implementation of climate-resilient building codes is pegged at 12 to 1, equating to a 1,100 per cent return on investment.

“Adaptation actions are cost-effective and a positive investment for today and for the future. Climate change adaptation is essential and will generate many benefits, including spurring innovative solutions, technologies and jobs that can help minimize damages to communities, retain ecosystem services, reduce economic shocks to supply chains, sustain livelihoods and maintain social cohesion, and most importantly, save lives,” the strategy states.

A range of implications for commercial real estate

Looking at other climate adaptation objectives and targets potentially of interest to the commercial real estate sector, the adaptation strategy envisions development of, or updates to, at least 200 flood hazard maps, prioritizing “higher risk” areas, by 2028. The timeline for getting wildfire prevention and mitigation plans in place is set farther out — at 2030 — since that initiative would depend on the provinces/territories designating high-risk communities, but it’s suggested that at least 15 per cent should be implemented two years before that date.

Other major objectives in the strategy’s disaster resilience category focus on insurance and an overhaul of the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement program, which sees the federal and provincial governments step in to help cover uninsurable losses sustained in natural disasters. That’s exploring mechanisms to encourage relocation away from vulnerable zones. As well, the government is developing an online portal, which will draw on flood modelling and hazard mapping to help users gauge their risk exposure.

The adaptation strategy targets 2027 as benchmark year for getting a significant majority of at-risk businesses and economic sectors on board with resilience planning and implementation. By then, it foresees that 60 per cent of businesses located in coastal regions will have embraced adaptation actions and 80 per cent of “highly exposed” businesses will consider impacts of climate change in both their existing operations and future plans.

Commercial real estate is not identified as part of the latter group, which taps the agriculture, fisheries, energy, mining, transportation and tourism sectors. However, drilling down to real estate’s multidisciplinary workforce, 70 per cent of the members of “relevant professional associations” are counselled to likewise “have the capacity to apply climate change adaptation tools” by 2027 and to convey the importance of climate change adaptation to their clients.

The adaptation strategy also includes indicators for monitoring and evaluating progress. Many relate to the preparedness of infrastructure, agricultural productivity or conservation and resilience of natural resources. However, residential landlords and developers could also be in line for scrutiny through indicators tied to the health and well-being action area. These would measure the percentage of households with cooling systems and the percentage of households with nearby access to parks or green space.

Call for proposals seeks capacity building projects and enabling research

To launch work, the Canadian government has issued a call for proposals for capacity building and research projects. Proponents can receive funding to cover up to 60 per cent of projects related to: guidance and resources for the professional services that will be pivotal in steering climate change adaptation; economic and behavioural change analyses; monitoring and evaluation approaches; and adaptation issues specific to the mining, forestry or energy sectors.

“The impacts associated with climate change — intensified wildfires, devastating flooding, more powerful storm systems and others — are being felt in every region of Canada,” says Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Jonathan Wilkinson. “The National Adaptation Strategy makes important investments. This call for proposals supports this vital work.”

Businesses, industry and professional associations, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, Indigenous governments, communities and associations, and provincial/territorial and municipal governments and their associated agencies are eligible to apply. Territorial government and Indigenous proponents will qualify for funding to cover 100 per cent of project costs.

Up to $15 million will be disbursed to the chosen proponents, with a minimum allocation of $150,000 per project. Projects can commence beginning January 1, 2024 and must be completed by December 31, 2026. Submissions to the call for proposals will be accepted until September 22, 2023.

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