CREATE Environmental Innovation

The NSERC CREATE Environmental Innovation training and research program aims at enhancing Canada's prosperity through innovative environmental assessment, monitoring and management. It will train the next generation of natural resource consultants, managers, landuse planners, and policy makers so they are "market-ready" to enhance Canada's competitive position and reputation as a country that efficiently develops its natural resources, while maintaining rigorous environmental standards. Environmental Innovation is seeking graduate students who are interested in northern resource development and environmental sustainability and who want to complete thesis research that will be enhanced by coursework and internship experience with industry, government, and/or aboriginal organizations.  The program will have teaching nodes at McGill University and the University of Alberta and will focus on northern regions characterized by a gradient of industrial intensity, from the oil sands and commercial forests of northern Alberta to early-phase mineral exploration and mine development in Nunavut. An extensive list of collaborators chosen for their commitment to and performance in improving environmental assessment, monitoring, and management, as well as their longstanding collaboration with co-researchers will contribute to course design and delivery, internships, and graduate student supervisory committees.

Graduate Training

Our objective is to harness the diverse collective knowledge and experience of the co-researchers and collaborators to produce a unique graduate training experience. Researchers will collaborate to train students to address cumulative environmental effects at multiple scales, combined with an environmental policy component focused on reconciling the creation of economic opportunities, compliance with existing regulatory frameworks, and broader objectives of cultural, environmental and economic sustainability. Our trainees will conduct exceptional thesis-based research and obtain the following Environmental Innovation value-added skills:

  1. Early program perspective about the many issues and challenges involved in typical, high profile, resource development issues in Canada (accomplished primarily through an eye-opener course focused on case-studies presented from the varied perspectives of the co-researchers and collaborators).
  2. Capacity to understand and reconcile the resource development priorities of industry, government, and indigenous people (accomplished primarily through the eye-opener course and internships with industry and government or indigenous organizations).
  3. Knowledge and skills required for effective assessment, monitoring, and management of resource development. This includes specialized skills in assessing, monitoring, and managing environmental impacts with existing and emerging technology (accomplished primarily through thesis projects) combined with generalized knowledge about natural resource economics and industry, indigenous rights and engagement, ecoinformatics, and scenario development (accomplished primarily through resource management core course).
  4. Professional skills and decorum required to be “market-ready” and highly effective at interacting with representatives of industry, government and indigenous groups (accomplished primarily through internships and Skillsets at McGill/Professional Development at University of Alberta).
  5. Integration within resource management networks that connect trainees to prospective industrial, government, indigenous, and academic employers, oriented around the shared training priorities of sectors that have too often worked in opposition to each other (accomplished through the development of the CEI team, internships, and graduate showcase seminars).

Research Objectives and Projects

The focus of the Environmental Innovation research program will be at the interface of natural sciences research and environmental policy. The research component will aim at the formidable challenge of fostering environmental research that 1) engages local communities, 2) is excellent by national and international scientific standards, and 3) is highly relevant to environmental management and policy. We will study regions characterized by a gradient of industrial intensity, from the oil sands and commercial forests of northern Alberta to early-phase mineral exploration and mine development in Nunavut.

The Environmental Innovation research program will concentrate on three aspects:

  1. Assessing the cumulative environmental and health impacts of industrial activities. Our program will encompass: i) different forms of resource development including mining, forestry, hydroelectric development, oil and gas, and the cumulative impacts of multi-resource development, ii) the full range of impacted landscapes from intensively developed landscapes to undeveloped, but proposed-to-be-developed landscapes and a wide berth of considered impacts including the abundance of a single species, biodiversity, whole ecosystems, ecosystem services, and contaminants in fish, wildlife and humans. A key emphasis will be placed on quantifying and communicating impact uncertainty and scale-dependence.
  2. Monitoring impacted and non-impacted landscapes and communities using new technology and ecoinformatic techniques. There is increased recognition of the need for rigorous, regional monitoring of new and ongoing resource development projects, including baseline data from undeveloped regions. At the same time, new technology creates unprecedented opportunity in remote monitoring of air and water quality, remote sensing of primary productivity and the detection and monitoring of wildlife. As a result we are in the midst of a transformation in how we monitor the local and regional effects of resource development.
  3. Managing sustainable development based on future scenarios of ecosystem services. Maximizing the volume and profitability of resource extraction, while minimizing environmental and health impacts requires good data and difficult decisions. The concept of sustainable development is fundamentally about ensuring that the values society currently derives from landscapes, encompassing everything from employment to enjoyment, continue to be available to future generations. Effective northern resource development requires comprehending the complexity of development issues, envisioning alternative northern futures, and making informed decisions among these alternatives. This research component will focus on adaptive management of existing and proposed industrial development, accomplished through the integration of impact assessment, post-development monitoring, and future scenarios. We will approach this integration through an ecosystems services framework, expanded to include the economic and long-term geological processes centrally involved in the formation and exploitation of petrochemical and mineral reserves. Our approach will also incorporate plausible contaminant risk scenarios, including air pollution, water contamination, and food chain transfers.

The composition of our Environmental Innovation team of co-researchers and collaborators situates our natural sciences emphasis on the cumulative impacts of resource development on fish, wildlife, forests, and waters, within a broader context of human health, social drivers of environmental policy, modelling and scenario development, adaptive management, indigenous rights, and environmental economics. The opportunity for collaboration among co-researchers and host institutions arises from the necessity of bridging this diverse expertise to achieve effective assessment, monitoring, and management of northern resource development.