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Canada seeks updated climate change predictions to revamp building codes

Flood waters breach the Gatineau River and flood the neighbourhood in Gatineau, Quebec, on May 10, 2017.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The National Research Council says Canada's homes and highways were built with assumptions about weather patterns that are no longer relevant, thanks to climate change.

Now the NRC is asking for help to figure out what kind of weather to expect in the coming years, so it can revamp national building codes to ensure everything from houses and office towers to bridges and wastewater systems can withstand the consequences of a warmer planet.

"Canada's buildings and public infrastructure systems ... are designed based on historic data assuming a stationary climate, and were not designed to accommodate certain extreme weather events being attributed to climate change," reads a Nov. 6 tender issued by the council.

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"As such, there is a growing risk of failure of buildings and infrastructure."

From melting permafrost and coastal erosion due to higher sea levels in the north, to the unusual warmth and dryness of the summer in British Columbia this year, experts say Canada has already started to bear witness to the effects of climate change.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned about the increasing frequency of extreme weather last spring while he was touring homes in western Quebec damaged by the engorged Ottawa River.

The costs faced by the federal disaster financial assistance program have also soared. Since 2011, the program has spent an average of $360-million a year, three times what the average annual cost was over the previous decade. Most of that is for floods and forest fires.

Adapting the building code to mitigate and adapt to new weather patterns is one of the commitments of the national climate change framework, agreed to by Ottawa and 11 provinces and territories almost a year ago. In the spring budget, Ottawa set aside $40-million over five years for the NRC's five-year climate-resilient buildings project.

But before the building codes can be adapted, the NRC needs to know what kind of extreme weather to expect.

The tender seeks a consultant to update weather and climate data for 660 locations across the country, including expected temperatures, wind patterns, rain and snow fall, and humidity.

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The successful applicant will work with the Meteorological Service of Canada as well as officials from Environment and Climate Change Canada to develop information about the expected impacts from average increases in global temperature from 0.5 degrees Celsius up to a maximum of 5 C.

The earth has already warmed up more than one degree on average compared to preindustrial levels and the Paris climate change accord commits the world to trying to keep it from hitting two degrees by the end of the century.

The new data will be then used for a 2020 update to the national building code and the national highways building code, which are not laws but serve as models for provinces and municipalities.

The tender closes Dec. 11 and the NRC expects work to begin on the project in January.

Feds ‘not prepared’ for climate change impacts: environment commissioner (The Canadian Press)
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