Deterioration of Infrastructure

In Quebec, climate change is synonymous with rising temperatures, notably increasingly frequent and intense heat waves and milder winters. Also expected are changes in precipitation cycles, with more frequent extreme precipitation events in summer and fall, more frequent rain episodes in winter and more intense droughts. These changes pose a threat to and reduce the life expectancy of infrastructure that may not have been designed to withstand such conditions.  


For example, asphalt is a material used to cover a number of surfaces such as roads, bike paths, runways, parking lots, etc. Asphalt can crack, potentially leading to the development of potholes, notably due to freeze-thaw cycles in winter that are occurring with increasing regularity due to climate change. However, intense heat episodes combined with recurrent heavy vehicle traffic cause asphalt deformation, which shortens its life expectancy. High temperatures also affect other types of infrastructure such as railway tracks, which can buckle and thereby force trains to travel at lower speeds. In northern Quebec, melting permafrost places additional pressure on paved infrastructure, which can notably cause warping.

Photo : Axel R.-D., 2008


Yet another example is that of transmission lines damaged by icing events, the occurrence of which is trending upward in northern parts of the province. Additionally, during periods of intense heat, power lines expand and may sag below the minimum permitted height, which can result in sparking or even fire.

Embankments, foundations, dikes and various buried conduit and cable networks may be damaged by water infiltration or humidity following flooding or extreme precipitation events. This can be particularly problematic when a wet period follows a drought period, as the contrast between the two can cause a weakening of materials.



Learn more about the impacts of climate change on infrastructure in the energy sector.


Learn more about climate change and flooding and their impact on infrastructure.


In Nunavik, melting permafrost causes the ground beneath residences and other buildings to become unstable. It is not unusual to see cracking in walls and windows as well as damaged gas lines.

Exacerbated by climate change, coastal risks such as erosion and flooding can degrade many types of coastal infrastructure, including roads, railways, ports and buildings located near the coastline.


Economic Repercussions

Deteriorating infrastructure can have direct or indirect repercussions on the economy, affecting businesses, hospitals, schools, emergency services, supply chains, telecommunication services, electricity distribution, etc.

The growing frequency and intensity of certain climate events is thus becoming an important phenomenon to monitor, as it both accelerates the wear and tear of the most heavily used infrastructure and increases maintenance, restoration and replacement costs. Such costs may reach into the billions for governments, businesses and households across Canada. 

In some cases, it is not so much the infrastructure’s deterioration that drives up costs, but rather the capacity of the said infrastructure, which is no longer suited to the new climate conditions. For example, due to the increased duration and intensity of extreme precipitation events, it is becoming necessary to adapt our rainwater and drinking water management infrastructure. Increasing conduit size, adding retention ponds and demineralization in urban environments are proving necessary to avoid undesirable conduit overflows, albeit at a non-negligible cost. 

Photo : A. Pichette, Archives La Presse

Example of Anticipated Costs

In 2014, the Université du Québec à Rimouski assessed the financial losses associated with the impacts of erosion on residences and coastal roads according to projected climate conditions in Avignon RCM. It was estimated that by 2030, 43 primary residences would be exposed to coastal erosion, representing approx. $4M in damage , and by 2100, this figure would rise to 123 residences for a total of $12M. According to the same report, the most significant financial issue is roads exposed to erosion, representing an estimated $18M in damage  by 2100.

AGECO study

According to this 2019 study, Quebec's 10 largest cities may need to invest $141 million to $249 million annually between 2020 and 2025 to adapt their stormwater management systems to climate change.

Social Repercussions

Damaged infrastructure can have significant and direct repercussions on citizens, for example by forcing the temporary closure of businesses, hospitals or schools, preventing  emergency services from reaching their destination, or  disturbing telecommunication or electricity distribution services. For instance, flooding can isolate communities from one another by rendering sections of road unusable for periods of variable duration. Access to emergency services can be particularly challenging during such events. Storms, icing events or violent winds damage electricity distribution infrastructure, potentially depriving residents of power and heat in winter.


Poorly-suited infrastructure can also endanger human health and safety and increase the likelihood of personal injury or even  death. For example, during periods of intense heat, outdated and poorly insulated buildings can suffer a degradation to their indoor air quality as well as higher temperatures and humidity levels, which can have negative repercussions on the comfort and health (both physical and mental) of the buildings’ occupants.

Population health

To learn more about the impacts of climate change on the physical and mental health of populations.

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