The uncertainties that climate change brings pose a challenge to asset managers, primarily when investing in the most appropriate adaptation strategies on infrastructure and integrating climate change into infrastructure planning and decision making.
Climate models also bring with them some uncertainties, while technical understanding of the best adaption strategy continues to develop. All these combined factors can send a mixed message to investors or potentially result in short-sighted infrastructure decisions, which can be costly.
Asset managers should craft business continuity plans and disaster management strategies to reduce climate change impacts on public assets. The study, “Guiding principles for infrastructure climate change risk and adaptation studies“, is one example of studies on climate adaptation in cities. It mentions that preventative maintenance could boost climate change adaptation efforts and the most effective adaptation strategy.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) published the resource, “Learning journey: Climate resilience and asset management”, to guide asset management planners.
FCM had observed that climate change impacts are increasing the communities’ vulnerabilities. While the effects may not exactly be the same in two communities, there are ways to manage the risks and ensure that infrastructure assets continue to operate and provide the services expected by residents and businesses.
Warming in Canada is twice as fast as anywhere globally, bringing more intense and extreme weather. In northern regions, permafrost melts threaten infrastructure, while in urban areas, UHI, heatwaves, and flooding events are increasing. At the same time, low lying coastal communities will feel the impacts of climate change through rising sea levels.
The increasing severity of natural events stretches the capacity of the infrastructure as most of them – especially aging ones might not cope with such impacts.
FCM’s “Learning journey: Climate resilience and asset management” is a resource that integrates climate change into asset management practices to ensure that infrastructure can withstand climate change effects and optimize investments in infrastructure resilience.
FCM’s “Considering Climate Change in Levels of Service” is another helpful reference in integrating climate change into asset management practice, particularly in the Levels of Service section. It involves a four-step framework, namely:
The first step is identifying the top climate hazard, gathering the local climate data and climate projections, and confirming all the existing services provided by the municipality.
The second step involves assessing the most vulnerable infrastructure and services and how climate change could disrupt the municipality’s services, and knowing what controls are in place to reduce the risks.
Step three uses this information to guide how the council can adapt and prioritize potential strategies to mitigate or adapt to climate change risks.
Step four involves managing the response through integrating strategies into infrastructure plans and budgets and monitoring the progress over time.
Following the four-step framework can give a municipality a good understanding of the levels of service it can provide to the community. However, in some cases, local governments are faced with financial or budget constraints and a lack of staff with technical skills, which creates a service gap.
To address this gap from a climate change perspective, the FCM suggests the following actions that municipalities or local councils can do:
- engage the community and seek to understand their needs and priorities and explain the cost-of-service delivery to inform their levels of expectations;
- make strategic decisions to balance of the cost of providing service integrating the present and future risks which can involve making immediate and long-term investments, doing this will ensure that the most critical services will be available to the community when needed;
- avoid public spending that will not produce long-term values;
- public expenditures should be grounded in evidence and long term financial evaluation.
As extreme events caused by climate change increase in severity and frequency, the cost of disruption and damage to infrastructure, homes, and businesses also rises.
Local councils and municipalities need an efficient climate adaptation strategy to reduce climate change impacts and economic and societal costs.