U of R announces Canada Research Chair in Climate Change, Energy, and Sustainability Policy

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: June 14, 2019 12:00 p.m.

Dr. Margot Hurlbert, is the University of Regina’s Tier One Canada Research Chair in Climate Change, Energy, and Sustainability Policy
Dr. Margot Hurlbert, is the University of Regina’s Tier One Canada Research Chair in Climate Change, Energy, and Sustainability Policy Photo: courtesy of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy

Dr. Margot Hurlbert is the University of Regina’s newest Canada Research Chair (CRC).

Hurlbert, coordinating lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Land and Climate and  professor in the Centre for the Study of Science and Innovation Policy at the University’s Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (Regina campus) was awarded a Tier 1 CRC in Climate Change, Energy, and Sustainability Policy. Her leading research focuses on addressing the gap between current policy and behaviour, and understanding what is needed to address climate change.

Speaking at the announcement on June 14, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, shared, “Our government recognizes that when our institutions better reflect the diversity of Canada, science and research are stronger and their impacts on the lives of Canadians are more profound. I am encouraged to see improved equity, diversity and inclusion among our Canada Research Chairs and look forward to seeing how their unique perspectives will help shape a better future for us all. I would like to thank our universities for embracing research excellence and inclusion.”   

Solving climate change is a complex problem plagued by questions of which technologies best address the problem (wind, solar, hydro or nuclear power), which technologies people might accept (electric versus hydrogen fueled cars), what behavioural changes people will be willing to adopt (vegetarianism or ride sharing), and which policy instruments best address the problem (carbon tax versus cap and trade).  These decisions are further complicated by considerations of the impacts of climate change including increased drought, flood, fires, and changes in river flows, land degradation, desertification, and challenges of food security. 

“I am particularly interested in how policy interacts with the actions of individuals and organizations to either reinforce the social, technical, and economic structures of society—which cements carbon dependency—or to create new structures that lead to a sustainable energy future,” says Hurlbert. 

Kathy McNutt, Interim Vice-President (Research) at the University of Regina, recognized the importance of the Canada Research Chairs program and today’s announcement, saying, “This is critical policy creation in a jurisdiction that necessitates the expertise of an internationally respected scholar of Dr. Hurlbert’s calibre. Her highly respected work with the IPCC is just one example of her commitment to making her research count towards solving the problem of climate change, as well as equipping our students with the tools to make a difference in the world.”

The new CRC says that an important part of her work will involve working with citizens. 

“We are working toward having zero carbon emissions by 2050, but what does that mean and what does that even look like?” asks Hurlbert. “If we are presenting information that is so complex that people can’t engage with it, then we end up arguing about whether we should or shouldn’t have a carbon tax, instead of trying to imagine a no-carbon future in 30 years.” 

For instance, asks Hurlbert, does that mean we only have electric cars, and wind and solar energy? 

“We know that coal plants are going away, but what will other energy sources look like, and how will we actually realize that future?” 

Hurlbert says that her work is about imaging that future with people so they can understand what it might look like, fully embrace it, and move away from, for example, one policy that’s creating conflict. 

“The carbon tax is something that our policy studies support, and there are a lot of technologies that will move us to zero carbon, like electric cars. So while we can link technology and policy, because this is also about choices and transformative change, we must also link people with those policies and technologies,” explains Hurlbert. 

She says that by opening up assumptions and values of science to scrutiny, she will expose the often unseen problems of our current carbon dependence. 

“This includes all of the infrastructure that we interact with in our lives, such as the houses we live in that are supported by greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting technologies (like electricity and natural gas), or the cars we drive and pump full of gas, and even the buildings we work in that are of varying degrees of energy efficiency.” 

When we start with what we interact with on a daily basis, Hurlbert says we must think about the entire power production process—which includes the oil and gas industry. 

“We must talk about the current technologies and processes that emit GHG and what this looks like in 2050,” says Herbert. “It includes many sectors. And it’s a big complex problem.” 

An important part of her work will be to engage citizens in decision-making, and in group-learning sessions, so ideas and information can be exchanged through dialogue and debate. 

“If we are going to change our fundamental structures that are currently GHG emitting, such as embracing electric vehicles, then this has to be done through social learning. We need to learn from and support one another.” 

Hurlbert says part of her work with the public will also involve looking at how people perceive and tolerate risk, which comes into play when talking about climate change. 

"All of these intricate parts need to be part of the conversation, and of understanding energy and sustainability policies, so that together we can imagine and create a decarbonized energy future,” says Hurlbert.

Hurlbert joins seven other Canada Research Chairs at the University of Regina.

The Canada Research Chairs Program is part of the federal government’s national strategy to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research and development. 

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