BY JOEL R. NODELMAN, P.ENG.
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.”
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
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.
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
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
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
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.