New program and new challenges in environmental sustainability

Posted on Thursday, September 11, 2014

Blog Post

In the nation’s capital, there is a hint of autumn in the air, parliamentarians will soon be returning to the Hill and students of all ages are back in the classroom.

The Institute of the Environment at the University of Ottawa welcomed its first class of graduate students this week.  Our nineteen students – coming from across Canada and several countries around the globe – began their studies in our Master’s of Science in Environmental Sustainability with a four day orientation session. We wanted them to have a chance right from the start to get to know the campus, faculty and experts who they’ll be learning with, and a few of the really innovative and dynamic sustainability initiatives at uOttawa and in the greater Ottawa-Gatineau area.

Well, we literally “hit the ground running” on day one with team-building that started in a classroom, and then a trip to Gatineau Park to learn about our region’s biodiversity – a fitting combination when we all learned in the opening intros that almost everyone thinks hiking, the outdoors and activities in the water are what they call “fun”. Our orientation week was designed to give students access to the experience of senior policy-makers in government, the sustainability challenges faced by NGOs and some community groups, industry associations and government policy makers, from across the national capital region.

In a combination of site visits, seminars, panel sessions and keynote talks, our students were able to hear about leadership, interdisciplinary principles, team-building, career opportunities, and get to know each other. If there was a common theme amongst the leaders and experts they met with, it was that there is much to do to solve our environmental problems, but that there are incredibly exciting opportunities opening up every day.

By the end of the week, students had gained a deeper understanding of what sustainability means – both from an academic viewpoint and how entrepreneurial companies, community initiatives and NGOs, and government agencies are all putting sustainability into practice – and achieving positive results.

Our orientation week also featured the Institute’s first Fulbright Research Chair in the Environment and the Economy, Brian Murray of Duke University, at a reception for students, faculty and the broader community on September 4th. Professor Murray, director of the Environmental Economics Program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, is widely recognized for his work on the economics of climate change policy.

His remarks drew on the importance of cooperation amongst jurisdictions, at the national and subnational levels, to help address climate change. The experience of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), launched in 2009 with a consortium of northeast US states, is that emissions (from electricity generation) have dropped sharply. Professor Murray recounted the evolution of several cap-and-trade schemes in the US, emphasizing the need for strong governance, and the ups-and-downs of the political and economic times.

As one of the original designers of the allowance price reserve approach for pricing in carbon markets, Brian has tremendous knowledge of cap-and-trade schemes, and will bring insight to our Canadian experience, as 2015 nears and the California-Quebec trading allowance comes into play. The uOttawa community looks forward to his Fulbright residence for four months, beginning January 2015.

As we look to the school year, the Institute sees a future of new ideas and new energy. We hope we will see you for one of our many events, or that you will learn with us through this blog.

Carolyn is the Assistant Director of the Institute. She lives in Chelsea, Quebec, comes from a long line of people who love the outdoors, and spends some of her free time helping saving cheetahs in their natural wild habitat. You can email her at Carolyn.Farquhar at uottawa.ca.

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