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Here’s what’s on the radar for climate change in 2019

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2018 has been full of ominous climate news.

Record extreme weather across the country connected to our warming climate. The October IPCC report that said we have just twelve years to cut carbon emissions in half to avoid catastrophic climate change. A December study that found carbon emissions surging in the wrong direction. New research that shows the planet is in the midst of an extinction crisis

But we’ve also talked more about climate change than we ever have before. The science of human-caused climate change is unequivocal. We know what the science tells us will happen to our planet if we don’t make drastic changes fast enough.

With the livelihoods of so many Canadians forever changed by decisions to adapt to a warming world, the debate about how fast we make those changes will most certainty rage on in 2019. 

Here are some factors I will be looking for that will shape the climate stories over the next 12 months and beyond.

El Niño​ and extreme weather

2019 may be one of the warmest years on record as a building El Niño event piles on top of human-caused global warming.

Typically, the routine climate pattern that occurs when sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean rise to above-normal levels for several months means warmer than normal global temperatures on average.

In fact, the strong El Niño of late 2015 to early 2016 helped boost global temperatures to their all-time warmest on record in 2016.

And that’s not all. An El Niño​ event not only raises temperatures, but it redistributes weather patterns around the world. Typically, extreme weather is more common during one of these events — ramping up everything from droughts to floods and typhoons. 

According to the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the U.S., there is a 90-per-cent chance that El Niño will form and continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter of 2018-19, and a 60-per-cent chance that it will continue into the spring of 2019.

For the second summer in a row, wildfires led to a provincial state of emergency in B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Climate policy

Although climate policy in Canada differs across the country, 2019 is the year that plans will start becoming reality. 

And for those provinces and territories with no adequate emissions pricing plans of their own, the federal Liberal government will slap a carbon tax on fuels, with plans to send annual rebates to Canadian families to offset most of the added costs of this initiative.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau believes the added cost on fuels will tamp down carbon-intensive consumption, reduce emissions and help curb pollution.

“Starting next year, it will no longer be free to pollute anywhere in Canada. And we’re also going to help Canadians adjust to this new reality…. Every nickel will be invested in Canadians in the province or territory where it was raised.”

A big event to watch for is the next UN climate talks that will be hosted by Chile, in cooperation with Costa Rica. And before then, all eyes will be on the UN Secretary General’s summit in September, when countries will be expected to lay out their plans to increase national commitments in 2020.

The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than anywhere else on the planet. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Technology

2019 is looking like an exciting year for clean technology. Around the world, countries, cities and companies are embracing the shift toward sustainable energy — and figuring out how to turn a profit while doing it. 

Look for announcements over the next year in the sectors of energy storage and microgrid systems that use artificial intelligence and blockchain. Conventional power stations are centralized and often require electric energy to be transmitted over long distances, to serve a large number of costumers at once. Microgrid systems, on the other hand, are located much closer to the area they service, and can operate autonomously from the main power source.

Using smart technology, local demands can be customized, and grid disturbances like power outages can also be minimized. They can make a power grid greener, more cost efficient and more reliable.

Meanwhile, 158 companies around the world have recognized their contributions to climate change and committed to transitioning to 100 per-cent renewable power sources. 

A rendering of Squamish-based Carbon Engineering’s ‘air contactor design.’ The company uses carbon capture technology that captures CO₂ directly from the atmosphere, and synthesizes it into clean transportation fuels. (Carbon Engineering)

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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