Ottawa company launches platform to help urban planners prepare for climate change

Climate change is set to have a severe impact on many vital aspects of our lives; from water access to the extinction of one-fourth of the Earth’s species, there is already a wealth of data that tells us what future we can expect because of climate change.

There are companies that are tackling the issue of preparedness for these effects. Risk Sciences International, an Ottawa-based consulting company that specializes in the assessment and management of health and environment risks, launched the Climate Change Hazards Information Portal, a web-based tool meant to help companies evaluate how climate change will impact infrastructure projects in the future.

CCHIP’s algorithms use data from 40 of the most recent Global Climate Models (GCMs) to provide actionable conclusions about changes across an array of climate-related conditions. This information is separated by location and sector, which allows CCHIP to help planners, engineers, and decision makers account for future climate change impacts.

“Because of the fact that climate is increasingly non-static, it’s important to be able to update and tailor analyses.”

A few of the projects CCHIP has been involved in include work with municipalities to evaluate the capacity and management of stormwater drains to take runoff that flows off of lots and surfaces of cities; projections suggest increases the likelihood of extreme precipitation due to climate change. They’ve also worked on evaluating whether buildings could withstand heavy loads of snow — and found many issues with it in Halifax.

The tool can be invaluable to cash-strapped municipalities. “One of the big challenges especially for less well-resourced municipalities has been ensuring they or their consultants get access to the best climate information available and what this tool helps to do is to make it much more easily available and for certain levels of analyses to be done more easily,” said Erik Sparling, director of climate risk decision support at Risk Sciences International. “It doesn’t do away with the need for them to have climatology or engineering expertise to look at this stuff once you have the answers, but it gets us further down the road in terms of access to critical data.”

The platform was designed around the needs of entities like National Model Building Code of Canada, the Canadian Highway Bridge Design Code, and design standards for overhead electricity transmission. With the platform, users can anticipate the impact of climate change on infrastructure and create resilient designs based on that information. The Ontario Centre for Climate Impacts and Adaptation Resources (OCCIAR) has already made an investment in CCHIP and will be applying the tool in its ongoing adaptation decision-support work.

Sparling said that the current issue that CCHIP solves isn’t the fact that the data isn’t available; mostly, it’s the fact that the data can be difficult to interpret according to specific industries. He gives the example of Environment Canada’s national weather monitoring network. “Environment Canada uses weather station data to develop climate statistics and is increasingly making available online a certain amount of climate change-related information, but for individual sectors, your climate change information needs are quite different across those different uses,” he said. “Because of the fact that climate is increasingly non-static, it’s important to be able to update and tailor analyses that much more.”