About the Committee

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Vulnerability Committee Overview

It is fundamentally clear that climate change represents a profound risk to the safety of engineered systems and to public safety in Canada and around the world.  As such, professional engineers must address climate change adaptation as part of our primary mandate – protection of the public interest, which includes life, health, property, economic interest and the environment.  Climate change results in significant changes in statistical weather patterns resulting in a shifting foundation of base design data. Physical infrastructure systems designed using this inadequate data are vulnerable to failure, compromising public and economic safety.

To meet the climate change challenge, Engineers Canada and its partners established the Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee in August 2005. Co-funded by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and Engineers Canada until June 2012, the Vulnerability Committee continues as a major Canadian initiative involving all three levels of government and non-governmental organizations. It is looking broadly and systematically at infrastructure vulnerability to climate change from an engineering perspective. The Committee's work producedCanada’s First National Engineering Vulnerability Assessment Public Infrastructure, published in April 2008.

Engineering vulnerability and risk assessment forms the bridge to ensure our changing climate is considered in engineering design, operations and maintenance of civil infrastructure. Identifying the components of the infrastructure that are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts enables cost-effective engineering and operations solutions to be developed.

The assessment is a structured, formalized and documented process for engineers, planners and decision-makers to identify and recommend measures to address the vulnerabilities and risks from changing climate design parameters and other environmental factors due to extreme climatic events. The assessment helps justify design, operations and maintenance recommendations and provides documented results that fulfill due diligence requirements for insurance and liability purposes.

Engineers have traditionally relied upon historical data to design long-lasting, safe and reliable infrastructure, but now they must develop new design and operational practices to withstand the changing weather conditions.  Currently, climate change models do not provide the granularity required for the site-specific scales used in the engineering design of individual infrastructures.  Engineering vulnerability/risk assessment provides a recognized methodology that handles the uncertainties that are inherent in climate change projections. It enables the identification of key vulnerabilities and risks in a form that enables engineers to exercise their professional judgment for infrastructure design, operations and maintenance recommendations.

The Protocol systematically reviews historical climate information and projects the nature, severity and probability of future climate changes and events. It also establishes the adaptive capacity of an individual infrastructure as determined by its design, operation and maintenance. It includes an estimate of the severity of climate impacts on the components of the infrastructure (i.e. deterioration, damage or destruction) to enable the identification of higher risk components and the nature of the threat from the climate change impact. This information can be used to make informed engineering judgments on what components require adaptation as well as how to adapt them e.g. design adjustments, changes to operational or maintenance procedures.

Since 2008, the Protocol has been applied to assess climate risks and vulnerabilities across a wide range of infrastructure systems in Canada including : buildings (residential, commercial and institutional);  storm water/wastewater systems, roads and associated structures (e.g. bridges and culverts), water supply and management systems, electricity distribution and airport infrastructure. Close to 40 infrastructure risk assessments have been completed as of November 2014.

Engineers Canada encourages the use of the Protocol to assess climate risks for all types of infrastructure as a best practice that will become regular practice in the near future. It is available for use at no financial charge through a license agreement with Engineers Canada. Engineers Canada provides technical advice on the application of the Protocol at no financial charge and offers workshop training on a cost recovery basis.