New Canada Research Chair at the ÉTS

Measuring GHG emissions more accurately to more effectively address climate change

Tuesday, January 26, 2021
annie lavasseur ets
Annie Levasseur.

It is well known: human activity is the main cause of climate change. Many states, including Quebec and Canada, have committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, the tools that currently allow us to calculate them are imperfect, imprecise, and require resources and time. Consequently, the resulting data is often published with delays, is poorly understood by the general public, and does not take into account the variation in GHGs that may be emitted over a given period of time in a specific geographic area. 

Annie Levasseur, a professor-researcher in the Department of Construction Engineering at the École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), plans to address this problem, thanks in part to the work she will be leading under the new Canada Research Chair in measuring the impact of human activities on climate change. 

With several environmental projects and collaborations to Professor Levasseur’s credit, it is important to consider the spatial and temporal dimensions of GHG emissions to gain a better understanding of the problem and its solution! 

Currently, in ground transportation, for example, the amount of fuel sold during the year in a given territory is multiplied by the GHG emissions attributable to the combustion of one litre of fuel. This data does not allow the effect of other factors on emissions, such as the impact of weather conditions or the development of active transportation corridors on transportation patterns, to be studied. 

“By combining the data sources typically used to calculate GHG emissions, i.e., emission factors, with geolocation data or data from origin-destination surveys, for example, we could find out at what time of day or season transportation-related GHGs are most significant in a given Montreal neighbourhood,” she says. 

This mapping of GHG emissions would make it possible to adapt GHG reduction action plans by focusing on the actions with the greatest impact in a specific context. In addition, such a map would be an interesting visualization tool to show the general public the impact of its activities and, by the same token, to further engage citizens in the fight against climate change. 

Moreover, this mapping would avoid “shovelling” the GHG problem into the neighbour’s backyard, since it would be possible to integrate so-called indirect emissions, those related to the production of imported fuels and materials, into the new inventory. “A life cycle approach will be implemented to take into account GHGs produced outside the study area,” explains Professor Levasseur.

To achieve this, she plans to improve the combination of data and models that will be used to compile the GHG inventory on a sector-by-sector basis. She will integrate methane emissions into this data, which are very often ignored or roughly estimated even though they represent a significant portion of the pollutants emitted into the atmosphere.

Annie Levasseur also wants to create advanced modeling tools to evaluate the strategies put in place to mitigate climate change at the provincial and national levels. These tools will be obtained through the development and combination of different models that will make it possible to integrate phenomena that are often ignored, such as market effects that can lead to carbon leakage to other sectors or variations resulting from land use. 

“For example, the combination of different models is essential to assess the climate change mitigation potential of the forest sector. In order to develop optimal strategies, it is necessary to take into account forest carbon stocks, variations in forest cover albedo, the life cycle of forest products, the life cycle of substituted products, and all this with a prospective approach,” explains Professor Levasseur. 

These projects are attracting a lot of interest in the scientific community because they will allow public authorities to acquire tools capable of developing and measuring the effect of measures deployed to reduce GHG emissions. 

About the Canada Research Chairs Program 

The Canada Research Chair in measuring the impact of human activities on climate change is a Tier 2 Chair. These chairs are awarded to outstanding researchers who are recognized by their peers as having the potential to become leaders in their field. 

About Annie Levasseur

Annie Levasseur has been a professor-researcher in the Department of Construction Engineering at the ÉTS since 2017. She is interested in environmental life cycle assessment methodologies and the development of advanced modeling tools for quantifying the impact of human activities on climate change. 

She regularly collaborates with researchers and partners from organizations active in the forestry and energy sectors, including Université Laval, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, HEC-Montréal, Polytechnique Montréal, Kruger, the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Fauna and Parks, the Quebec Ministry on the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change, and the Ministry of Natural Resources Canada.

Recognized as an expert in climate change impact assessment within the international scientific community of life cycle assessment (LCA), Professor Levasseur chaired the Working Group on Global Warming for the first phase of the Global Guidance on Environmental Life Cycle Impact Assessment Indicators project, organized by the Life Cycle Initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

She also served on a panel of experts from the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine to develop a research agenda on negative carbon emissions and reliable sequestration technologies. She has also been invited by the Quebec Ministry of Environment and Climate Change to be part of the bioenergy committee, whose recommendations will contribute to the achievement of greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by 2030.

Chantal Crevier

Communications Services

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