Infrastructure in Canada’s North under pressure from climate change

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According to a report by the Canadian Climate Institute, warming temperatures will devastate Canadian infrastructure in the territories and northern parts of major provinces, causing billions of dollars in damage to airports, roads and buildings over the next three months. decades.

The report, titled Due North: Facing the Costs of Climate Change to Northern Infrastructure, says that in Canada’s North, airport runways are warping, paved roads are cracking and crumbling, and homes and buildings are failing due to damage from thawing permafrost and extreme weather conditions.

This is the first analysis to show the magnitude of the impact and quantify the cost of climate change to infrastructure in Canada’s North. Researchers examined the effect of warming temperatures on the future viability of winter roads and found that half of them will be unusable in 30 years.

“Infrastructure in the North has been sorely under-resourced for decades, and climate change will magnify existing problems with devastating consequences for northerners as it puts their communities, livelihoods and lives at risk,” says Dylan Clark, senior research associate at the Climate Institute and one of the authors of the 74-page report.

“Due to historical underinvestment, there is already an infrastructure deficit in the North, and northern communities do not have the same quality of infrastructure as the rest of Canada. When the impacts of climate change – such as thawing permafrost – overlap this existing gap, it causes severe damage to roads, homes, buildings and airports, with devastating consequences for northern communities.

The report is part of a series carried out by the Climate Institute, an independent climate policy research organization, to assess the costs of warming temperatures.

Clark says that while researching for previous reports in the series, it became clear that because the Canadian North is warming three times faster than the global average, the impacts of climate change will be even more extreme than in the rest. from Canada.

“This, combined with an existing infrastructure deficit due to decades of underinvestment, demonstrated that a stand-alone report on the North would be an important part of this series,” he explains.

Northern infrastructure is particularly vulnerable due to colonialism and historical underinvestment, because northern communities don’t have the same quality of infrastructure as the rest of Canada, Clark says, and because the North is also warming much faster than the global average, climate impacts are more severe.

“Already, global warming is causing roads and tracks to crack, rendering them in some cases unviable. By mid-century, the winter roads that many northern communities rely on to deliver essential goods and services like health care will be gone.

The report found that without adaptation, the national damage costs from permafrost thaw to paved and gravel roads could amount to as much as $200 million per year over the next decade. National costs of damage to airport runways are projected to reach $10 million per year by the end of the century.

Without adaptation, the total national costs of damage to buildings in Canada’s North could reach $30-38 million per year by mid-century and $38-76 million per year by the end of the century.

The report calls for existing policies and funding models to be reviewed so that territorial and Indigenous governments can apply their knowledge, leadership and ingenuity to plan, design and build infrastructure that meets their needs.

“Urgent federal action and investment is also needed to close the infrastructure gap, as territorial and Indigenous governments do not have all the resources to adapt,” Clark said.

However, he notes, one obstacle is that there is no framework that Indigenous, territorial and federal governments have agreed upon to support infrastructure and climate change adaptation decisions. This has an impact on funding, so it is often difficult to secure the funds needed to fill infrastructure gaps.

“A coordinated approach to closing the infrastructure gap in the North is needed,” says Clark. “This should include restructuring funding programs that reflect the realities of building and maintaining infrastructure in the North, better collecting data on the impact of climate change on infrastructure in the North, and updating Update policies, regulations and codes to address complex and severe impacts. climate change in the North.

Although the situation is daunting, early and continued investments in infrastructure adaptation can significantly reduce costs and protect communities, according to Clark.

For example, early adaptation investments in rebuilding the foundations of homes and buildings in the Northwest Territories can reduce damage fivefold over the course of the century, the report says.

Adaptations on paved roads could reduce costs by 38-42% on average in Yukon and the Northwest Territories, while adaptations on runways and airports could reduce annual costs by 74-88% on average , according to the global trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, says Clark.

Clark says the Climate Institute continues to work with northern governments to help assess the impact of climate change on the region and develop adaptation policies that reduce risk.

“We ensure decision makers are aware of our recommendations and findings when developing regional and national adaptation strategies and plans.”

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