BY JOEL R. NODELMAN, P.ENG.
Much has been written recently in The PEGG about climate
change science and the impact that climate change may or
may not be having on our weather systems. Regardless of the
fact or fancy of climate change, however, one thing is clear:
greenhouse gas emissions are a serious risk factor that businesses
must confront if they hope to remain competitive.
The issue is with us because our stakeholders, governments,
customers and shareholders now perceive greenhouse gas emissions
as yet one more thing that must be managed. The issue is
with us whether or not the Kyoto Protocol is ratified and,
in some respects, the issue is further complicated by the
potential failure of the treaty.
Managing risk is familiar to engineers and geoscientists.
For every project decision, we assess risk factors and arrive
at personal and corporate risk tolerances that guide our
investment strategies. Greenhouse gas emissions are just
one such factor.
When viewed in this way the issue becomes much less daunting
and can be managed using familiar techniques.
Put Aside the Politics
One of the first steps in addressing climate change risk
is to move away from the issue’s overarching politics.
I commonly have articles forwarded to me that attempt to
undermine the conclusions of the International Panel on
Climate Change scientists or, conversely, that attempt
to attack the motives and credibility of scientists who
oppose the IPCC.
The deluge of information has become an industry in itself.
It is human nature to enjoy reading articles that we agree
with and to fume at those that are at odds with our opinion.
Unfortunately, this does very little to help engineering
and geoscience practitioners manage risk within their organizations.
Most of us are not climate experts. It is presumptuous to
assume that our scientific and engineering training has prepared
us to function productively in this very specialized area
of scientific research. In the same way, we would be concerned
if a climate scientist attempted to design a pressure vessel.
Engineers and geoscientists can, and do, participate in these
discussions as informed laymen. But we must leave the proof
of the science in the hands of those professionals trained
in this very specialized and esoteric discipline.
Ultimately, one of our most important jobs will be to manage
the consequences of climate change. In the short term,
our job is to manage the impact of greenhouse gas emission
policy on our employers and clients.
Greenhouse gas risk mitigation is based on numbers. What
is the annual greenhouse gas emission? How does this compare
to emissions in specified baseline years such as 1990, 1995
or 2000? What is the growth forecast and how do emissions
grow with the forecast?
It is impossible to manage the risk without full knowledge
of emissions and the implications of business development
plans on emissions growth. Engineers and geoscientists are
uniquely qualified to evaluate these numbers and their sensitivities.
At present, it is unclear who will be the primary regulator
of greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is very clear that
within the next few years they will be regulated.
A key element in risk management is an awareness of the
ebb and flow of the debate about who will ultimately regulate
greenhouse gas emissions in your jurisdiction. It is common
to work risk management scenarios for each possible policy
regime to understand the effort required to comply.
There are a myriad of approaches to mitigating greenhouse
gas emissions. The most fundamental of these start right
It is important to know where energy efficiency can be improved
within an operation and to understand the economics of those
improvements. Are there improvements that are marginally
non-economic that would become economic under the various
policy scenarios that are evolving?
Other approaches can also be contemplated, including investment
in new projects that reduce emissions outside of the operation,
emissions trading, carbon sequestration, or renewable energy
Based on analysis of emissions, the possible regulatory
regimes and the approaches that can be taken to reduce
emissions, the practitioner is positioned to propose a
prudent course of action. Some projects may not count under
some of the proposed policy scenarios. Regulatory uncertainty
is significant and can contribute considerably to the level
of financial risk associated with climate change project
investment. However, it is wise to know what can be done
and, where practical, to undertake those projects that
make sense today.
Investment Equals Advocacy
In this area of practice, investment can be viewed as advocacy.
Each completed project becomes a precedent. This informs
the debate and has significant influence on the direction
taken by policy-makers.
Depending on the nature of your professional practice, these
issues may have no immediate impact on you. Smaller companies
may slip under the radar screen of proposed regulation, which
is currently focused on large-scale emitters.
Greenhouse gas emissions are directly linked to energy consumption
and to the contained energy in all of the products and services
that we consume. Ultimately, the effects will trickle down
into our homes and our businesses.
It is therefore prudent to be aware of the implications and
to plan how we – as individuals, homeowners and professionals – will
modify our practices to accommodate the effects.
Climate change is one of the most pervasive influences on
our society that we are likely to face over the next century.
Engineers and geoscientists have a central role to play in
managing this issue.
Joel R. Nodelman, P.Eng., is president and CEO of Nodelcorp
Consulting Inc., based in St. Albert.
Editor’s Note: This article is the third in a series
presented by APEGGA’s Environment Committee regarding
the role of professional members in sustainability, climate
change impact and adaptation. The committee provides professional
direction and leadership in environmental issues for members.
The articles – addressing industry-specific initiatives,
international initiatives and regulatory considerations – are
meant to raise the level of awareness and generate discussion.
The opinions expressed by the author are his own and not
necessarily those of APEGGA.