Feb. 7, 2020

New national climate institute taps UCalgary experts

Independent, multidisciplinary Canadian Institute for Climate Choices to provide government policy-makers with evidence-based research and analysis
David Layzell
David Layzell is one of four UCalgary academics on the new Canadian Institute for Climate Choices. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Several University of Calgary scholars are among the dozens of academics and policy experts from across the country who this month launched the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, a new independent national research consortium.

The pan-Canadian expert collaboration was the result of a competitive request for proposals led by Environment and Climate Change Canada. With a multidisciplinary approach, its aim will be to undertake rigorous, evidence-based research, analysis and engagement to inform climate policy development by all levels of government.

“Many of us were feeling the need to widen the framework for climate change mitigation beyond the pricing, regulatory and incentive policies that are narrowly focused on greenhouse gas emission reductions,” says Dr. David Layzell, PhD, director of the Canadian Energy Systems Analysis Research (CESAR) initiative and The Transition Accelerator, and one of four UCalgary academics on the new institute’s expert panels.

“If we’re talking about getting to net-zero emissions by 2050, we need to understand the technology, business model and social innovations impacting the world today and learn to direct those disruptions to achieve societal objectives, including climate change mitigation,” says Layzell, pictured above.

“The University of Calgary is home to a wealth of expertise on energy, climate change mitigation, and policy impact,” says Dr. André Buret, PhD, interim vice-president (research). “It’s a testament to that expertise that our scholars will be working with their colleagues from across the country on this important, national initiative to effect real, lasting and transformative change on climate policy.”

Broadening the approach to climate policy

The new institute will look to its advisory council, board of directors and expert panels to guide its research. In addition to Layzell, also a professor in the Faculty of Science and who sits on the institute’s mitigation panel,  other panellists with UCalgary connections include:

  • Dr. Jennifer Winter, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Economics and scientific director of the Energy and Environmental policy research division at The School of Public Policy
  • Dr. Bev Dahlby, PhD, distinguished fellow and research director in The School of Public Policy
  • Dr. Sara Hastings-Simon, PhD, research fellow in The School of Public Policy.

“These expert panels are a very diverse group, drawn from every jurisdiction across Canada,” Layzell says. “We don’t all agree, but there’s an appreciation across the whole group that the approach that has been used to set climate policy over the last 20 plus years — since Kyoto in 1997 — hasn’t worked very well.”

The institute will take a different, broader approach, Layzell says. For instance, while targeting lower greenhouse gas emissions remains a priority, the institute will have the freedom to take into account the transformative and disruptive changes that are occurring in the transportation system as a whole.

No sense designing strategies for the way we lived in 2015

“There’s more things wrong with our personal mobility system than just greenhouse gas emissions: car accidents, congestion, the high cost of car ownership, and the fact we park our cars for 96 per cent of the time and on some of the most expensive land in Canada,” Layzell explains.

“So there’s no sense designing a climate change mitigation strategy for the way we lived in 2015. We really need to be designing it for the personal mobility system that’s going to exist in 2030 and beyond, a system that’s changing dramatically with autonomous and electric vehicles, car sharing, smart cities, and many of the other major disruptive forces we are experiencing today.”

Transportation is just one example of many issues the institute and its experts will tackle, providing evidence-based research, data, and policy direction that incentivize human behaviour with solutions that are more convenient, more comfortable and cost less.

“We need to be harnessing changes that are already occurring, and embedding low-carbon solutions into those transformations, directing those disruptions to achieve societal goals.”

Despite the scale of the challenges, Layzell is excited about the institute’s potential, and hopeful about the future.

“I’m actually incredibly optimistic,” Layzell says, pointing as one example to CESAR’s latest research on the potential of hydrogen production in Alberta. “We have to disrupt ourselves, reframe the problem, because there’s tremendous promise and a major economic opportunity to make the fuel the world wants, while addressing climate change at the same time.”