• Beyond Hard Infrastructure: Integrated Approaches to Climate Action

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    Planning, Published Article
Beyond Hard Infrastructure: Integrated Approaches to Climate Action
Business in Vancouver Magazine / ACEC BC Fall 2019 Engineering Issue 1565

KWL's Robin Hawker's article, Beyond Hard Infrastructure: Integrated Approaches to Climate Action, was published in page 4 of the Business in Vancouver Magazine / ACEC BC Fall 2019 Engineering Issue 1565.

Engineers often work on the frontlines of climate change, designing infrastructure solutions that are resilient to changing conditions and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through more efficient and low carbon energy systems.

Traditional engineering approaches tend to focus on hard infrastructure solutions for adaptation, such as raising dikes for higher levels or resizing pipes for higher flows.  However, hard infrastructure, while sometimes necessary, is only a part of the emerging way of planning and designing climate adaptation projects.

An integrated lens encourages holistic climate change strategies that are lower impact and tailored to local priorities. This requires solutions developed by multi-disciplinary teams.

When we talk about integrated approaches, we mean approaches that take a systems-level view, considering multiple factors simultaneously and prioritizing solutions that offer diverse benefits across economic, social, and environmental systems.  

From Planning…

As an example, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN) in North Vancouver adopted an integrated approach for their Community Climate Change Resilience Planning (CCCRP) initiative.  The initiative draws on local and traditional knowledge to respond to climate change in a way that builds on cultural practices and enhances local ecosystems.

Phase 1 of the project assessed TWN’s vulnerability to more than 10 climate change hazards across many different community service sectors. Examples from the assessment include anticipating the impact of ocean acidification on shellfish and of coastal flooding on archaeological sites.

Findings show that many of the community’s highest climate vulnerabilities aren’t related to built infrastructure at all, but rather have to do with impacts to natural systems or traditional sites and practices, all of which are a high priority for the Nation.

These findings will inform the development of diverse adaptation strategies, including nature-based structural solutions and policy initiatives to build community resilience in a holistic way.

Other communities in Metro Vancouver are adopting this integrated approach to climate action planning, including the City of Surrey, City of Vancouver, and communities and partners on Vancouver’s North Shore.

…Through Design…

Nature-based Solutions (NBS) provide an integrated approach to use the services of nature (“ecosystem services”) alongside conventional adaptation approaches. NBS have been gaining international recognition as a way to adapt to hazards while also restoring or enhancing natural ecosystems.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) defines NBS as “policies and measures that take into account the role of ecosystem services in reducing the vulnerability of society to climate change, in a multi-sectoral and multi-scale approach.”

For example, constructed tidal wetlands not only address erosion and flood effects from more frequent and severe storms and sea level rise, but can also improve water quality and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.  NBS also typically offer lower-carbon solutions than more traditional approaches.

NBS often have fewer greenhouse gas emissions associated with manufacturing, transportation, and installation of materials used in construction. They can also sequester CO2 and filter other pollutants from the air. 

The Steveston Sea Gate project in the City of Richmond is an example of how NBS can be combined with conventional infrastructure strategies. The conceptual design involves expanding intertidal area marshes on an existing offshore island to provide dual flood and erosion protection as well as natural habitat.  The project also involves features to enhance water circulation and quality, as well as tree planting for carbon sequestration and new habitat.

Hard infrastructure features of the design include building a dike on the island using dredged materials from the Fraser River and constructing a rotating sea gate to protect Steveston Harbour from storm surges.  Together these features support flood protection while continuing to allow vessel traffic to navigate the river and enter and exit the harbour. 

As another example, the growing community of East Fraser Lands in South Vancouver is responding to climate change through both NBS adaptation and emissions mitigation approaches. This includes flood protection works which combine a constructed wetland and flood management structures into an urban park. River District has built an on-site district energy utility in the community, with plans to meet the area’s heating needs with a low-carbon source such as sewer heat recovery, geo exchange or biomass extraction.

… To Implementation

Taking an integrated approach is not without challenges. Identifying co-benefits and incorporating diverse perspectives to design solutions adds new complexities to already complex and technical projects. 

At Kerr Wood Leidal, we work with communities and industrial clients across Western Canada to assess climate risk and vulnerability, develop integrated adaptation plans, and design innovative climate action solutions. 

Our climate change practice is just one of our many areas of practice founded on integrated approaches, including flood protection, stormwater management, and low-carbon energy system design. 

Our multi-disciplinary Climate Change Adaptation & Mitigation Team is made up of engineers, biologists, and planners who work collaboratively to navigate these complexities from project planning through to design and implementation.

Robin Hawker, RPP, MCIP
Climate Change Adaptation Lead
Environmental Planner

To view her published article, please click on the download button below:

Article - Beyond Hard Infrastructure: Integrated Approaches to Climate Action (application/pdf, 0.298Mb)