The most recent issue of the University of Ottawa’s Research Perspectives magazine, entitled The Power to Transform: How Clean Technology is Defining Our Future, features in-depth articles exploring the research of Common Law Professors Chidi Oguamanam, Nathalie Chalifour and Stewart Elgie.
The issue looks at how uOttawa’s researchers are studying issues and developing technologies related to green innovation in the areas of engineering, green chemistry, law, business and psychology, among others. In recent years, the University has become a focal point for research into new clean technologies and related public policy, with the City of Ottawa serving as the centre of Canada’s largest concentration of clean energy and technology researchers in academia, federal labs and companies.
An article entitled “Looking back to move agriculture forward” explores Professor Chidi Oguamanam’s research into innovations that have evolved over centuries in small agricultural communities in places like Ghana, Uganda and his home country, Nigeria. Professor Oguamanam has uncovered numerous practices among small farmers and Indigenous communities that are perfect examples of clean technology. “We often think of advances in terms of modern laboratories,” he explains. “But we also need to consider the open field, where Ugandan mothers compare how their crops and animals are doing; where women in Ghana select hens that hatch all their eggs; where women share practical knowledge with one another to improve breeding. By careful observation, traditional farmers do their own kind of nature-driven genetic optimization.” But these communities are under threat of exploitation and “biopiracy” from large corporations, says Professor Oguamanam. His work seeks to protect traditional knowledge so that it can be recognized, encouraged, and shared equitably.
Professor Nathalie Chalifour’s research into mechanisms that the federal government can use to create a national climate strategy is the subject of an article entitled “Who has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions?” By signing the United Nations’ Paris Agreement in 2015, Canada made a commitment to responsibly addressing the issue of climate change. But with a diverse set of territorial and provincial policies on climate change already in place across Canada – policies created in the absence of federal leadership – Parliament’s constitutional jurisdiction and the role that the federal government can play in establishing strong climate leadership is anything but simple. “This would have been much easier if it had been done 15 or even 10 years ago, before the provinces established such varied approaches to climate policy, especially carbon pricing,” she says. Professor Chalifour’s research aims to clarify the government’s powers and the tools it can use to fulfill the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement. While acknowledging the complexity of the task at hand, her research shows that an effective form of national leadership is possible, and that if the government chooses to act quickly it can meet its international commitments.
Finally, an article entitled “Power shift” documents Professor Stewart Elgie’s efforts to show that by fueling green innovation, Canada can maintain a strong economy while shifting towards a cleaner, greener society. “Until recently, the general consensus was that we had to pick between a healthy environment and a strong economy. And frankly, in that either/or scenario, the environment lost,” he explains. “We now know that you can have a growing, improving economy that reduces environmental harm at the same time, but it isn’t easy – it takes smart public policies that incent cleaner growth.” Professor Elgie serves as the director of the University of Ottawa’s Institute for the Environment, as well as the founder of the Smart Prosperity Institute, a think tank established to study clean economic growth. His goal is to position Canada as a leader in the development of clean technologies, a reachable goal, he suggests, given that we already display the requisite know-how in areas such as large public utilities, electric grids, resources and auto parts. With smart forward-thinking, and some calculated risk-taking he believes Canada can innovate towards a healthy future.