McGill receives $4.8 million to advance climate change science and technology

Three projects will fill knowledge gaps about the environmental and economic impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen Canada's capacity to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050

The Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund, administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), is investing more than $4 million in three McGill-led projects through the Climate Awareness and Action Fund (CAAF).  Nationally, the funding was part of a $58 million investment in research that will advance climate change science and technology, an announcement made by the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change..

McGill’s funded projects will address critical data and knowledge gaps about greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the environment. The projects led by Grant Clark (Department of Bioresource Engineering and the McGill School of Environment); Yi Huang (Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences); and Luis Miranda-Moreno, (Department of Civil Engineering), together with academic and industry collaborators, are funded for five years. The researchers’ goals are to quantify greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and to improve understanding of their impact on the environment, transportation, and urban living.

“At McGill, we are building a nexus of experts devoted to exploratory research on GHGs,” said Martha Crago, Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation. “The three McGill-led collaborative projects funded by the Government of Canada today promise to propose innovative, made-in-Canada solutions to the global challenges of climate change.”

Learning from the landfill

When it comes to organic waste management in Canada, many different strategies are employed. Organic waste can be collected by a zero-emissions electric waste collection vehicle or a diesel truck. It can be transferred through a facility where electricity comes from hydropower or from natural gas. It can be processed in a biodigester or compost windrow. It can end up in the landfill. Each of these organic waste management scenarios impacts the climate and the economy.

Researchers and policymakers lack robust data about the environmental and economic impacts of organic waste management and GHG emission, knowledge that would help them make sound decisions for municipal waste management in Canada.

This is a knowledge gap that three researchers from McGill, three from Dalhousie University, and one from Queen’s University are seeking to fill with the support of $2.2 million in CAAF funding. Their project will gather empirical data on quantities and composition of organic wastes from Canadian facilities that manage, process, or store these materials. They will investigate the GHG impacts and the potential for carbon transformation in organic wastes. The results have the potential to inform environmental policies governing waste management.

The project is a collaboration between Grant Clark, associate professor in Bioresource Engineering and an affiliate of the McGill School of the Environment; Benjamin Goldstein, assistant professor in the Department of Bioresource Engineering; and Graham MacDonald, associate professor in the Department of Geography.

Collaborators from Dalhousie University include and James Baxter, associate professor in the Schulich School of Law; David Burton, professor in the Department of Plant, Food, and Environmental Sciences; and Gordon Price, professor in the Department of Engineering and leader of the Innovative Waste Management Research group; and Ian Strachan, professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at Queen’s University.

Remote sensing to understand GHGs

GHG emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) generated by human activity are the main drivers of global climate change. Heavily populated areas are hotspots of GHG emissions, yet we do not have enough observational data from major Canadian cities, including from Montreal, to get the full picture about distribution in the air.

For example, the National Air Pollution Surveillance Program does not include C02 and CH4 in their in their routine measurements, therefore information on surface-level GHG concentrations and the emission-driven distribution of the GHGs influenced by meteorological conditions is also lacking. Without this observational data, a critical gap remains in our knowledge of the impacts of GHGs in urban areas.

Project lead Yi Huang, an associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, and his team will take more than one approach to gathering this new data.

Using remote sensing techniques, as well as in-air drone and aircraft monitoring and numerical modeling, they will map the surface concentrations of CH4 and CO2 in the greater Montreal region. The project will create the first urban observational network for monitoring GHGs in the area, and the results will help us understand the effects of meteorological conditions on GHG distribution in cities. Today, Environment and Climate Change Canada awarded the project $1.2 million in funding.

Each of the collaborators bring unique expertise to the project. Huang is an expert in atmospheric remote sensing. Co-lead, Peter Douglas, assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, is an expert in trace gas measurements and isotopic analysis and has led recent projects investigating methane sources in the Athabasca oil sands. Co-lead Djordje Romanic, an assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, is an expert in atmospheric boundary layer modeling. Co-lead John Gyakum, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences, is an expert on synoptic and dynamic meteorology.

Several other McGill researchers, including Frédéric Fabry (Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences), Margaret Kalacska (Geography), Parisa Ariya (Chemistry), and John Stix (Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences) will contribute their expertise in atmospheric measurements and modeling together with those from government institutions, including ECCC and National Research Council.

Putting the wheels in motion for sustainable Urban Mobility

Apart from the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, emissions generated by vehicles in urban environments have been increasing. Estimates from Natural Resources Canada are that passenger transportation is responsible for 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. That figure rises to 36 per cent when freight transportation is included. Without appropriate action, urban transportation will continue to be a major climate change contributor.

A project led by Luis Miranda-Moreno, an associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and an expert in sustainable urban mobility, seeks to improve understanding of how climate change impacts transportation and emissions in Canadian cities.

A large body of research, some conducted by Miranda-Moreno, has revealed how individuals and households contribute to emissions through personal transportation, and more generally, how urban design strategies, such as improvements in transit and bicycle infrastructure accessibility, can decrease emissions. Questions remain as to the impact climate change will have on urban transportation – and accurate real-world emission measurements and robust modeling is required to take appropriate actions to reduce emissions.

Miranda-Moreno’s team will develop a novel modeling framework, integrating urban-mobility agent-based simulations, emission models from field measurements, and downscaling climate projections for Canadian cities. This will lead to the development of decision-support tools for evaluating alternative strategies, such as the impact of vehicle technologies and vehicle usage, to mitigate climate change impacts. With the cities of Montreal and Ottawa as case studies, this approach will assist policymakers evaluate the effectiveness of actions designed to reduce emissions.

Collaborating researchers include Professor Van Nguyen and Assistant Professor Lijun Sun of McGill’s Department of Civil Engineering; Wenyi Xia, Assistant Professor in the Department of Logistics and Operations Management at HEC Montréal; Francesco Ciari, Assistant Professor at Polytechnique de Montréal; and Zoe Li Associate Professor at McMaster University. Several industry and municipal partners are supporting the project.

Read the Government of Canada press release.

Consult the interactive map of current and completed projects funded under the Environmental Damages Fund program, including project descriptions.