Engineers Canada releases new climate change guideline

In May, Engineers Canada, the national umbrella organization of Canada’s provincial and territorial engineering regulatory bodies, released the new guideline Principles of Climate Adaptation and Mitigation for Engineers ( The document has 11 non-binding principles—enforceable changes lie with the provincial and territorial engineering regulatory bodies—to guide engineers in a world in which, from the viewpoint of Engineers Canada: “The climate is changing…at a rate that is likely accelerated by anthropogenic releases of greenhouse gases. [C]limate change has led to changes in climate extremes, such as heat waves, record high temperatures and, in many regions, heavy precipitation, in the past half century.”

Although engineers and their clients must plan for climate change when designing engineered systems, changing public opinion and evolving government policies may hold engineers responsible for systems failures caused by climate impacts. The document states: “It is the engineer’s duty to take all reasonable measures that [engineered systems] appropriately anticipate the impact of changing climate conditions.” What follows is a brief synopsis of Engineers Canada’s 11 guidelines. 

1. Integrate climate adaptation and resiliency into practice
Engineers must work with design function professionals to create engineered systems that exceed codes and guidelines. This can be achieved by:

  • Maintaining a record of actions that addresses climate change issues; and
  • Explaining the solution to the client in economic terms.

2. Integrate climate mitigation into practice
Engineers should create engineered systems that reduce the 30 billion tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere every year. Engineers should develop:

  • Alternative propulsion technologies and fuels;
  • Electric propulsion and distribution; and
  • Nuclear waste management.

3. Review adequacy of current standards
Engineers should investigate their local design standards to adequately withstand changing climate and weather conditions; they should also advise other engineers and the appropriate governing body.

4. Exercise professional judgment
Engineers must consider the consequences of climate change from an adaptation and mitigation perspective. Engineers should keep in mind:

  • The quality and consistency of materials, 
    manufacturing and inspection;
  • Reliable analysis and experimental data; and
  • Good knowledge of the actual load and the environment.

5. Interpret climate information
Climate and meteorological experts are now engineers’ allies. This is especially true now that historical weather cannot be used to predict future weather trends.

6. Emphasize innovation in mitigation and adaptation
Engineers need to innovate state-of-the-art developments that reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. This is where engineers can have the biggest impact. A recent example would be the efforts to sequester carbon emissions in oil sands operations.

7. Work with specialists and stakeholders
Just as engineers need to work with climate specialists, they need to work with people in other specialized sciences, such as forestry and ecology, and tap into people with knowledge of previous local climatic events.

8. Use effective language
Engineers already know the importance of effective communication with their clients, especially laypeople who don’t necessarily understand the message. Yet the public is aware of climate change, and this influences government policies that may require engineers’ expertise.

9. Plan for service life and resilience
Although it’s difficult to forecast climate change decades in advance, engineers should take it into consideration when developing a project, and they should use time slotted for periodic refurbishments to incorporate adaptive measures. This planning, although initially costlier, will save money in the long run.

10. Apply risk management principles for uncertainty
Identify and define threats, prioritize risks, implement treatments and monitor the progress of climate change impacts. This may require the help of an outside professional.

11. Monitor legal liabilities
Being held responsible for projects that can risk public health and safety is nothing new; however, in the age of climate change, a reliance of current codes and regulations may not be enough. Therefore, maintain a record of actions taken to address climate change issues and keep documentation of training and consultation.

Following the announcement of the new guideline, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi announced on June 1 that federally funded infrastructure projects will be assessed for contributing to lowering carbon pollution. Additionally, their locations, designs and planned operations will be assessed for climate change risks. Called the Climate Lens, the assessment process will affect programs seeking funding from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, a plan that helps create long-term economic growth and supports a low-carbon, green economy; the Disaster Mitigation and Adaption Fund, a program designed to help communities better withstand future risks of natural hazards; and the Smart Cities Challenge, which encourages communities across Canada to improve the lives of their residents through innovation, data and connected technology.

Noting that the measurement and calculation of greenhouse gases is complex, Engineers Canada President Annette Bergeron, P.Eng., FEC, stated the organization “is pleased to see the federal government recognize that professional engineers have these skills…Engineers Canada has been encouraging the federal government to require climate change vulnerability assessments for new infrastructure projects…over the past many years.”