Your Response to Climate Change

Our climate is changing -  how will YOU respond?

Nine steps to help you plan and design for the new climate

by Jeffrey M. Frank, HTFC Planning and Design (Image: HTFC Planning and Design)

As a landscape architect, YOU have a responsibility to:

  • Think about the carbon footprint of your projects and methods to reduce it;
  • Understand the recent extreme weather and the projections for future climate in the locations of your work;
  • Consider the possible consequences of recent extreme weather and future climate on your projects; 
  • Educate your clients about the risks associated with these changes;
  • Assess the associated risks and opportunities through well considered planning and design options and solutions;
  • Collaborate with your client to document agreement on the implications, costs, benefits, risks and uncertainties of future climate on the project, and on the shared responsibilities for planning and design decisions taken now;
  • Innovate creative solutions and share successes, challenges and failures with the profession.

Planning and design for adaptation requires professionals to be knowledgeable about future climate, the consequences (direct, indirect and induced) of changes in our environments, including consideration of the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. 

This web page summarizes some of the ways climate change is affecting and will affect landscape architectural practice in Canada, and the potential responsibilities of professional landscape architects to address such changes.

What you need to know

1. Design with Climate in Mind

“Climate” is inseparable from “Landscape”. Design that responds to climate is fundamental to the work of landscape architects.  

2. It Will Never Be the Same Again

Future climate will be significantly different than it was in the past. The frequency and intensity of extreme weather will continue to change.

3. Plan for LO! Carbon

The projects we plan and design today need to incorporate low carbon strategies for implementation. They need to consider the impact of future climate on: 
•    Intended program, function and use; 
•    Selection of materials; 
•    Detailing of installations; and 
•    Ongoing operations and maintenance

Our increasing understanding of the scope and timing of severe weather and climate change should strengthen the resolve of planning and design professionals to work to the utmost to contribute to all possible efforts to mitigate the contribution of greenhouse gas emission in work for which we are responsible, and to advance initiatives to protect, enhance and create natural environments both for their benefits in sheltering human populations and their contributions to sequestering carbon. 

Learn more in Low Carbon Resilience: Best Practices for for Professionals

4. Get to Know the Climate Atlas of Canada - An Invaluable Resource

The CSLA Committee on Climate Adaptation (CoCA) is partnering with the Climate Atlas of Canada Team at the Prairie Climate Centre (PCC) to develop resources for landscape architects and others that facilitate incorporating climate change adaptation thinking into current planning and design practice. 

Learn more

Stay tuned for new resources from the Climate Atlas team!

The Climate Atlas provides local data on over 2000 regional locations and 500 municipalities as well as detailed reports on 17 major cities.

5. It's All (or mostly) About the Climate Variables

In the future, every climate variable will be affected in some way. The scope and scale of change is projected by an ensemble of climate models and readily accessed via the Climate Atlas of Canada.

Learn more 

The Atlas presents projected conditions for 23 climate variables. Some variables have more significance in some regions than others, and for some areas of landscape architecture practice. For most landscape architects practicing in urban Canada the key variables will include:

  • More heat – Very Hot Days and Tropical Nights
  • Less cold – Freeze Thaw Cycles and Frost Free Season
  • More intense rain events – Heavy Precipitation Days

In some parts of Canada significant consequences of climate change are already well documented including; sea level rise and storm surges; thawing permafrost; melting glaciers and water insecurity; and risk of forest fire.

The climate variables most impactful to landscape architects vary across the country. However, the Climate Atlas provides local data on over 2000 regional locations and 500 municipalities as well as detailed reports on 17 major cities.

This map  links to Climate Atlas data “very hot days” for +30° days (RPC8.5) for 18 locations encompassing all of the eleven climate regions of Canada and including each province and territory. You can see how your region compares to others in Canada. This particular variable is only one of many to consider.

6. Scope and Scale of Change - There is no more normal

The Climate Atlas presents users with the average, low and high projected values from 12 Global Climate Models for each of the 23 climate variables. The “Time Series Display” and “Frequency Graphs” provide broader insight into the scope and scale of these projected changes. You will see that the trajectory of change as represented by the mean is sometimes substantial but equally (or more) consequential are projections of variability as shown by the range between the low- and high-projected values. 
It has been said with regard to future climate, “there is no more normal”. This concept is illustrated by the example for +30º days for Winnipeg below.

Winnipeg – very hot days (+30ºC) (RCP 8.5)

The Historical Normals depict a very narrow range of +30 days, between 5 and 26 days more than 90% of the time. This is how a “normal” summer was defined. In the past, we could reasonably expect the number of hot summer days would be limited to a fairly narrow range. In the immediate and near future this idea of a narrow range of “normal” all but disappears. The range of possible weather will vary so greatly as to make the idea of normal irrelevant.  

According to a suite of 12 latest-generation climate models, Winnipeg’s normal summer used to include between 5 and 26 days with temperatures at or above 30ºC (1976-2005).  In the near future (2021-2050) that may rise to between 11 and 53 days, if carbon emissions continue to rise (RCP 8.5), and between 19 and 78 days in the more distant future (2051 -2080, RCP 8.5). 

Climatic responsive design will need to address these much broader ranges of annual weather compared to the past.  

7. Broad Ranges of Conditions Must be Considered

Because the scope and scale of change is so highly variable, plans and designs will need to tolerate a much broader range of environmental conditions and be much more resilient and adaptable than in the past. 

8. Depend on Ecological Services

Ecological services provided by natural systems are becoming increasingly recognized for their contribution to reducing global emissions and sequestering carbon, and their capacity to ameliorate the impacts of severe weather and a changing climate.  Natural systems can provide valuable co-benefits when integrated with built environments. Landscape architecture often creates, enhances or protects natural systems including:

  • Urban trees and forests
  • Riparian systems, lakes, wetlands, shorelines and nearshore freshwater and marine environments
  • Public and private open space
  • Grasslands 
  • Low carbon footprint green roofs
  • Individual sites and connected systems
9. It's a Professional Obligation

As knowledge about climate change grows, professional obligations in planning and design are also changing: 

The standard of reasonable care is evolving with society’s increased awareness and understanding of potential climate change impacts. It is reasonable to expect a professional to evaluate those potential impacts and address them in their professional work.”  (Engineers Canada)


To ensure that you are meeting your professional obligations, stay up to date on the science and the methods.

Learn more on the CSLA's Climate Resources web page

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