Manage Operational Climate Risks

Canada is expected to get hotter, wetter and experience more instances of extreme events. Many of the most severe and costly climate change impacts will be associated with projected increases in the frequency and magnitude of extreme climate events and natural disasters. These events include flooding due to high-intensity rainfall and storm surges, ice and windstorms, hail, heat waves and drought.  FCM’s Investing in Canada’s Future: The Cost of Climate Adaptation at the Local Level shows the most costly natural disasters in Canada since 2003.

It’s important to have a comprehensive understanding of future extreme events in order to effectively design and maintain infrastructure, emergency management, and community and health safety to be integrated into adaptation planning efforts. The cumulative nature of impacts, and the associated uncertainties may cause some ‘surprises’ in the operations and maintenance components. However, the magnitude components can be reduced through adaptation.

Keeping a baseline level of service

Communities will need to able to maintain baseline levels of service despite the effects of climate change for their priority assets. For each priority asset, baseline performances will need to be identified and monitored to evaluate performance on an on-going basis. Some examples of how levels of service may need to be adjusted to accommodate climate adaptation include:

  • Increasing capacity of drainage conveyance systems
  • Increasing drinking water storage capacity
  • Designing and managing municipality infrastructure to be multi-purpose (e.g. parks that can hold flood water, roads that act as flood barriers
  • Increasing system redundancy for system resilience (e.g. providing backup access roads, water sources, etc.)
  • Retrofitting municipal infrastructure to insulate against extreme weather events and climate

FCM’s Guide for Integrating Climate Change Considerations Into Municipal Asset Management provides guidance on how to integrate climate change response into asset management practices.  Also consider external tools to track data, such as Asset Management BC’s Sustainable Service Assessment Tool.

Make the best of the tools available

Many of the tools available to communities are free to access.  As a result, the majority of associated costs are borne in tasking staff to conduct the Technology Needs Assessment, the subsequent Vulnerability Assessment for assets, and the Adaptation team for ongoing support.

The type and range of tools needed will depend on the complexity of the municipality in terms of size, resources, and vulnerability of assets to climate change.   These can be built internally, sourced online, or outsourcing to an external organization.  A wide range of tools are available for free to communities to assist in data collection and ongoing management in the areas of, but not limited to:

  • Climate projections
  • Risk and vulnerability assessments
  • Gap analyses
  • Watershed management
  • Air quality
  • Waste management
  • Public health
  • Food
  • General adaptation planning

When considering measures to address climate risks, consider the following:

  • Systemic interconnections across risks in the design of their adaptation strategies
  • Phasing out and avoiding maladaptive actions (i.e., actions that increase emissions or exacerbate risks in other areas
  • Taking advantage of windows of opportunity for adaptation progress
  • Factoring social context, cost, and technical feasibility into the evaluation of adaptation opportunities
  • Favouring adaptation options with co-benefits for emissions reduction and other policy objectives

Consult the Council of Canadian Academies’ Canada’s Top Climate Change Risks – The Expert Panel on Climate Change Risks and Adaptation Potential Report for further guidance.

Limiting liability

According to the Government of Canada’s Canada in a Changing Climate: Sector Perspectives on Impacts and Adaptation, although Canada does not have legislation that specifically addresses obligations or responsibilities on climate change adaptation.  Even so, it may not be reasonable for infrastructure decision-makers to seriously dispute the significance of climate risks, but ignoring the risks may not guarantee immunity to legal liability. In some communities, the prospect of legal liability will likely be a significant driver of climate change adaptation responses in the future. For example, if municipalities have committed to conveyance of 5 year storms, failure to maintain that standard may result in updated inflow design flood (IDF) curves identifying historical 5 year floods as now 3 year floods, leaving the municipality open to liability in a flood event.

Cost Efficiency – Cost-Effectiveness Analysis

A cost-effectiveness analysis finds the least costly adaptation option or options for meeting physical targets, and is especially useful for adaptation options where benefits are difficult to express in monetary terms (e.g.  human health, freshwater systems, extreme weather events, and biodiversity and ecosystem services; but where costs can be quantified. For example, given the necessity for water, the aim of an assessment is not to find alternative adaptation options that might yield higher adaptation benefits, but to find those options that ensure sustainable water quality and quantity for vulnerable communities.  Steps involved in a cost-effectiveness analysis include:

  • Agree on the adaptation objective and identify potential adaptation options
  • Establish a baseline
  • Quantify and aggregate the various costs
  • Determine the effectiveness
  • Compare the cost effectiveness of the different options

A cost-effectiveness analysis can be carried out either in an overall manner, if only one adaptation option is to be selected, or an incremental fashion, if multiple options are required to satisfy an adaptation objective.  An incremental analysis implements one option first until its marginal cost-effectiveness ratio is surpassed by another option.

For example, see the graph below comparing control strategies for dengue fever, taken from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Adaptation Options – An Overview of Approaches.

Case Studies

Case Study

Brazil – Assessing Dengue Control Options using Cost-Effectiveness Analysis

This study, from UNFCCC’s Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Adaptation Options – An Overview, carried out epidemiological and economic assessments of 43 different insecticide-based vector control strategies for a 5-year period in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The authors developed a dynamic model of dengue transmission that assessed the evolution of insecticide resistance in mosquito populations and dengue immunity in human populations.

The analysis was conducted from a societal perspective. It assessed direct medical and non-medical costs and indirect costs from workdays lost because of dengue. Costs were expressed in USD for the year 2009. Future costs were discounted at a yearly rate of 3 %. Dengue health burden was measured in terms of disability adjusted life-years (DALYs) lost. DALYs are a generic measure of health that enables comparison of reductions in health burdens across different disease conditions as well as combining morbidity and mortality effects in the same index. For the study, Brazil-specific thresholds for cost-effectiveness were defined based on the criteria of the WHO Commission on Macroeconomics and Health: less than USD 24,660 per DALY saved was deemed a ‘cost-effective’ intervention, and less than USD 8,220 per DALY saved was deemed a ‘very cost-effective’ intervention.

Case Study

City of Surrey Coastal Flood Adaptation Strategy

The City of Surrey adopted the Coastal Flood Adaptation Strategy (CFAS) in November 2019, using a participatory, community-driven approach that directly engaged residents, stakeholders, First Nations, community and environmental organizations, business associations, the agricultural community, and neighbouring jurisdictions to identify short, medium, and long-term solutions.

Developing the CFAS was broken into five Phases:

  • Phase 1: What matters most and who is affected?
    • Hazard & vulnerability scenarios
    • Eliciting public values
    • Preliminary adaptation options
  • Phase 2 and 3: What can we do and what is acceptable
    • Strategy development & phasing
    • Engaging on strategy acceptability
    • Reviewing strategies to improve acceptability
    • Options development
    • Options evaluations: Technical, economic, ecological, social
    • Shortlist of options
  • Phase 4: How will we do it?
    • Lifecycle costing and funding
    • Aligning with other strategies
    • Implementation plan
  • Phase 5: Reporting back
    • Final visual package
    • Coastal Flood Protection Strategy
    • Broad communication

Case Study

Ahead of the Storm – Developing Flood-Resilience Guidance for Canada’s Commercial Real Estate

Flooding is now the costliest natural disaster for Canadians at 73% of annual disaster costs nationwide.  The University of Waterloo summarized flood resilience measures for the commercial sector from several case studies, that can be applied to corporate and community-level buildings alike.  Key topics and actions from the study included:

Measures to Enact Before the Flood

  • Plans and Procedures
    • Emergency funds
    • Emergency operations centres
    • Insurance documentation
  • Equipment and Supplies
    • Critical equipment and supplies
    • Portable flood barriers and sandbags
    • Back-up generation
    • Elevator water sensors
  • Major Retrofits
    • Elevating and flood-proofing critical equipment
    • Protecting and isolating high-voltage circuitry
    • Electrical panel upgrades

Measures to Enact During the Flood

  • Procedures to shut down equipment, particularly electrical and flammable liquid lines
  • Fill up fuel tanks and fire pumps
  • Taking photos for insurance claims

Measures to Enact Immediately After the Flood

  • Checking for downed power lines and fuel line breaks
  • Assessing structural damage
  • Determining degree of cleaning and sanitation, and initiate cleanup procedures
  • Initiating drying and dehumidification procedures