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Local studies with global impacts

Researchers take a frontline role as world leaders debate in Paris


By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

As world leaders converge on Paris to talk about the looming issue of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, universities across the country are on the front lines, looking for ways to implement the big ideas or necessary actions to battle a warming climate.

At UOIT,  Dan Hoornweg is one of those researchers.

Hoornweg, who has been involved in the field of climate change for years, looking at ways for municipalities to remain sustainable in the face of climate change, is currently involved in a review of the role of electric cars in the GTA.

“That’s probably the single biggest initiative Ontario could take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Hoornweg, an associate professor in the faculty of energy systems and nuclear science

According to Hoornweg, the study, currently in the early stages of research, is looking at the barriers to getting more electric cars on the road across the GTA, a good starting point for climate change mitigation, as transportation in GTA is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

One such barrier is the political process.

“The challenge is that even if Oshawa was the absolute richest and best municipality in the world, they wouldn’t be able to address this on their own,” he says. “You’ve got to get all these different agencies and levels of government to cooperate and that tends to be humanities weakness.”

And currently, the top level of government is in Paris, looking to address some of the key issues in the fight against climate change.

One possible outcome of the talks, which are set to wrap up on Friday, Dec. 11, is the installation of a new greenhouse gas emissions cap. Canada, under former prime minister Stephen Harper, opted out of the original caps set under the Kyoto Protocol in 2002.

“I think we will probably get there with hopefully some kind of a mechanism to check in every now and then to see how we’re doing,” Hoornweg says. “A lot of the problem with climate change is that the global climate is a really difficult thing to model.”

Money is also on the table.

It is the larger developed countries that are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, but unfortunately it is the small developing countries that may suffer the effects of climate change the most. Due to that, these countries are looking for the establishment of a fund to help them absorb the impacts. The fund could be as high as $100 billion the year by 2020.

The summit in Paris is the latest in a series of climate talks in recent years to address steps forward with previous talks in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009 ending in failure.

Whatever global decisions are made, Hoornweg says the researchers at the country’s universities and other institutions play a large role in the fight against climate change.

“The thing about climate change is that it’s so enormous the impact, that everybody is kind of getting involved,” he says. “It’s such a critical issue, that the challenge is where do we go from here and how?”