Holistic, Baby-Step Approach Meets Climate Change Challenge

APEGGA puts on its first-ever professional development seminar on climate change in April. The message the experts offered, says the writer, is that the Association’s professionals will continue playing a vital role in addressing the new realities of a warming planet.

President and CEO
Nodelcorp Consulting Inc.

Speakers stimulated discussion on the role of the engineering and geophysical professions in addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by evolving climate change issues, during an APEGGA professional development seminar in Edmonton on April 22 and 23. The seminar hosted a range of experts on various aspects of the climate change debate, presenting a broad overview of the issue.

A detailed review of the science of climate change was presented by Dr. Greg Flato of the Meteorological Service of Canada. Dr. Flato summarized the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and concluded that the climate is changing. The global mean temperature, in fact, has increased by 0.8° C over the last 150 years.

As might be expected, Dr. Flato’s presentation was challenged by some seminar participants. He pointed out that uncertainty is generally accepted in all walks of scientific life and that “just because there is uncertainty does not mean that we don’t know.”

Governmental Similarities
The meeting then turned to discussion of the plans of the Canadian Government and the Alberta Government to address climate change, presented by Morrie Paul of Environment Canada and Don MacDonald, P.Geol., of Alberta Environment. Despite the political differences highlighted almost daily in the media, the two plans are very similar in structure.

The key difference is the timeline for delivery of the objectives. The federal plan focuses on addressing the Kyoto Protocol over the next four to eight years, while the Alberta plan concentrates on a longer, 20-year timeframe. Put these differences aside and the two plans both conceive of a carbon constrained future, which will likely occur whether the Kyoto Protocol comes into force or not.

One of the main seminar lessons concerns the delineation between climate change mitigation strategies and climate change adaptation strategies. “Mitigation” refers to work undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A key example of mitigation is energy efficiency improvement work. “Adaptation,” on the other hand, refers to work undertaken to accommodate changes in weather patterns brought about by global climate change. This might include designing drainage systems to accommodate more frequent and larger floods.

Upgrading Codes
David Lapp, P.Eng., of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers outlined the importance of climate change adaptation to the day-to-day practice of professional engineers in Canada. He suggested that there is much work to be done by the profession in revising older codes and standards to address shifting weather patterns.

And he stressed that climate change presents real engineering issues that the profession is taking very seriously. There is much work yet to be done and it is important for professional engineers to be engaged in the process to carry out our primary mandate: public safety.

One of the highlights of the first afternoon of the seminar was the presentation by Laury North, P.Eng., of Alberta Environment. He said that it is now the expectation in Alberta that environmental impact assessments must address both climate change mitigation and adaptation issues.

EIAs must outline greenhouse gas emission profiles and how projects have been designed to accommodate shifting weather patterns created by global climate change. In essence, climate change is now a mainstream environmental issue which is making a transition from the policy debate to the regulatory front.

Paul Hunt of Climate Change Central wrapped up the afternoon with a presentation on technical adaptation issues facing the engineering profession. Mr. Hunt stressed that Alberta is facing the effects of changing climate and that engineering design practices will have to accommodate these changes.

The second day of the seminar focused primarily on new technology and how innovation can contribute to Canada meeting its climate change objectives. The day started with a presentation by Mike Hollingshead of Facing the Future Inc., outlining the development cycles of new technological innovation and how these cycles affect society as a whole.

Economy of Scope
Mr. Hollingshead pointed out that the historic perspective of “economy of scale” is giving way to a more integrated perspective “economy of scope.” In the new economy success will be achieved by placing innovative technology in appropriate market niches that maximize the overall energy, human and resource efficiency of the innovation

This theme repeated for the remainder of the day over a wide range of technologies.

Richard Baker, P.Eng., of EPIC showed how enhanced oil recovery using carbon dioxide has the potential to address much of the Kyoto emissions gap while at the same time extending the useful life of Alberta’s oil resources.

Richard Adamson, P.Eng., of New Era made the case that decentralization of energy can maximize its efficiency and decrease the reliance on centralized energy systems. Mr. Adamson pointed out that at this stage in the development of distributed energy systems regulatory obstacles are more of an impediment than technological issues.

‘ Climate change is serious business. APEGGA professionals must start now to address this issue both to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to a changing climate. This is nothing more than conventional risk management that recognizes both the problems and opportunities presented by this issue’

Steve O’Gorman of Canadian Hydro Developers showed how green power can provide energy with long-term price security and significantly reduced environmental impacts, when compared to conventional fossil-based energy sources.

Ian Potter of the Alberta Research Council pointed out that it will be some time before renewable energy becomes a prime player in the energy supply. Technology options will likely form the major thrust of managing greenhouse gas emissions.
Work continues in areas of energy efficiency, greenhouse gas intensity reduction and carbon sequestration. Dr. Potter stressed that climate change mitigation must use a holistic approach taking all factors into account.

Paul Liddy of Mariah Energy argued for the integration of smaller power systems into existing infrastructure. Integration results in more efficient use of resources. Through this approach APEGGA professionals have the potential to turn climate change problems into opportunities.

The final presentation of the seminar was by Dr. Eddy Isaacs of the Alberta Energy Research Institute. He pointed out that technological innovations in oilsands extraction technology such as steam-assisted gravity drainage can significantly reduce the emissions associated industry in Alberta.

Overall, the seminar demonstrated that mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions will require a holistic approach, applying the appropriate technologies in the correct niches. New technology options will be a major element of the solution – not as a way of supplanting more traditional technologies but as an ongoing transition to a more energy and carbon efficient future.

Drawing the Conclusions
A number of conclusions can be drawn from the seminar.

First, climate change is serious business. APEGGA professionals must start now to address this issue both to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to a changing climate. This is nothing more than conventional risk management that recognizes both the problems and opportunities presented by this issue.

Second, APEGGA professionals have the skills and professional obligation to become involved in addressing these issues. The changing climate and approaches taken to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions cross all disciplines within our professions.

Third, transformation will not be achieved through momentous changes to the way our professions conduct business. Rather, changes will be done incrementally, in baby steps, with a focus on continuous improvement.

Finally, the overall approach to managing climate change issues will not be achieved with one “magic bullet.” Rather, the solution will result from efficient use of resources and the appropriate integration of old and new technologies.

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