Integrating climate risk consideration into project planning

Published 2 March 2017 by Allan Klindworth MEIANZ

The Victorian Government has released its Climate Change Action Plan 2017-2020 (The Plan). Key principles of successful adaptation outlined in the Plan include: informed and integrated decision-making; risk management; complementarity; equity and community engagement.

The two major transport projects identified in the Plan, Western Distributor and Melbourne Metro Tunnel, provide examples of how climate change is integrated into decision making. Both these projects are using the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA), Infrastructure Sustainability (IS) Tool which provides a very effective method for embedding sustainability considerations, including consideration of climate risk, into project planning and design.

The application of the IS Tool, or similar rating framework, can be achieved by the project proponent requiring the use of such a tool and specifying a minimum rating and select credits as part of the project specifications. This is increasingly being done on major projects including the previously mentioned Western Distributor, Melbourne Metro and the Level Crossing Removal Project.

The approach of integrating the use of such a tool provides a common language and set of requirements for integrating sustainability considerations into a project. This helps to efficiently and effectively define and price an approach as well as making it easier for the tender evaluation process.

Two credits in the IS Tool have are focussed on climate change: Cli-1: Climate Change Risk Assessment and Cli-2: Adaptation Measures. ISCA provides guidance on how to achieve these credits. The Australian Standard AS 5334-2013 Climate Change Adaptation for Settlements and Infrastructure – A risk based approach also provides a useful reference. By awarding levels of achievement under each credit, the IS Tool highlights the importance of considering multiple climate scenarios, involving multiple technical disciplines and external stakeholders in the risk assessment process (Cli-1). For adaptation, the framework encourages appropriate measures to address high and extreme risks, with higher points available if medium risks are also addressed by adaptation measures.

While some climate risks, like inundation from extreme rainfall events may be effectively, addressed through design decisions (e.g. elevation of assets), others may be more effectively addressed through maintenance or emergency management processes. For the latter solutions, participation by asset owners and operators will be important in the risk identification and adaptation planning discussions. It will also be critical to document and communicate these measures through the completions and handover documentation.

The use of frameworks like ISCA are increasingly being mandated on major projects, supporting the principle of integrated decision making outlined in the Plan.  This will help assist in creating a body of knowledge demonstrating successful approaches to managing the impacts and preparing for longer term risks of climate change. For project’s that do not mandate the use of ISCA, or similar, the application of such a framework helps to differentiate a project from a competitor providing a tangible way of integrating quality project, environmental and social management approaches while gaining external acknowledgement.

By Allan Klindworth MEIANZ | Team Leader Sustainability and Resilience, AECOM Australia Pty Ltd