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Sustainability in the Digital Age part of project awarded seed funding by Concordia University’s Volt-Age research program

February 12, 2024

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Concordia University’s Volt-Age research program – supported by $123 million from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund – has granted seed funding in the amount of $7.2 million for 36 projects focused on reducing CO2 emissions and “creating sustainable built environments, resilient transportation systems and citizen engagement.”

Illustration of a CO2 reduction chart

Together with partners, Sustainability in the Digital Age will play a major role in one of the funded projects centered on “Building a Data Collaborative for Tracking Aggregate Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Greater Montréal.” The Volt-Age funded project is a key part of the multi-sector Climate Data Hub for the Greater Montreal initiative led by Concordia’s Data Studio hosted at the Next Generation Cities Institute (NGCI), mandated by the Montreal Climate Partnership and developed in collaboration with Open North.

What is a data collaborative and why is it important to build one for tracking aggregate greenhouse gas emissions in Greater Montréal?

Data collaboratives are defined by GovLab as an arrangement through which “participants from various sectors — including private companies, research institutions, and government agencies — can exchange data to help solve public problems.” A data collaborative is a vital piece of technical and social infrastructure for electrification processes because they create the enabling conditions to be able to:

  • Share data in order to provide a more complete and accurate picture of the GHG emissions landscape, building greater situational awareness among a range of actors;
  • Enable a clearer identification of important problems needing to be addressed via policy, regulation, and innovation by virtue of siloed datasets being combined and analyzed;
  • Increase capacity for assessing the aggregate impact of decarbonization interventions and conducting accurate emissions forecasting.

Currently, no comprehensive source of aggregated, granular, interoperable emissions data exists in Montréal for use by policymakers, researchers, advocacy groups, businesses, and individuals to monitor progress on emission reduction commitments, including electrification. Without the ability to aggregate high-quality data from a variety of sources related to GHG emissions, we have little capacity to target and credibly assess the effectiveness of various interventions aimed at dramatically reducing emissions in the Greater Montréal area.

How will our data collaborative project address this critical gap?

As part of the Climate Data Hub for Greater Montreal, the project will focus on building capacity for GHG emissions tracking and data-informed climate action at the municipal level through the formation of an emissions data collaborative. This emissions data collaborative will help accelerate electrification efforts by working across sectors to co-create a data governance structure and partnership protocol that facilitates safe and secure data sharing, broadening access to information needed for the development of effective new policies, regulations, and innovations related to energy transitions. In doing so, we intend to pave the way for a near-real-time dashboard that allows stakeholders to ascertain whether we are on track to achieve the goal of reducing Montréal’s GHG emissions by at least 55 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030 and design strategies to make progress towards this goal.

Data collaboratives are part of a global trend in transformative digital strategies and data governance frameworks pioneered by organizations like Open North who led the Data Governance Workstream of Montreal’s 50M Smart Cities Challenge program. The formation of the data collaborative for this project will follow an adapted form of the process outlined in the GovLab data collaborative development guide, advancing a multi-faceted approach that includes:

  • Mobilizing Data Stewardship: By engaging and connecting actors across the Greater Montréal area through the data collaborative, the project aims to support efforts to normalize data stewardship mindsets and practices. This is intended to support the development of decarbonization interventions that are equitable and inclusive.
  • Promoting GHG Emission Awareness: Rooted in the “GHG Emission Data Studio” project, the current initiative aims to put in place enabling conditions to advance a comprehensive overview of greenhouse gas emissions in Montreal through the Greater Montréal Climate Data Hub. By making this data readily available and understandable, it fosters a greater understanding of the local emissions landscape, which is crucial for devising effective decarbonization strategies.
  • Collaborative Vision Building: This project brings together stakeholders from various sectors and backgrounds to align their visions and values. This collective commitment can significantly enhance the effectiveness and acceptability of decarbonization strategies. By fostering a shared vision, it ensures that decarbonization efforts are holistic, inclusive, and rooted in community values.
  • Facilitating Policy Design and Implementation: With the use of accurate and up-to-date data, decision-makers are better equipped to design effective climate policies, set realistic targets, and track progress. This helps to achieve Montreal’s emission reduction goals and support progress towards decarbonization.
  • Innovation and Adaptation: This project is also a catalyst for innovative solutions. By providing the tools and knowledge necessary to understand GHG emissions data, it encourages local innovators to create solutions that are tailored to Montreal’s unique needs. These solutions can be adapted and improved over time to ensure the city’s decarbonization efforts continue to be effective.

As part of the Climate Data Hub for Greater Montreal, this project leverages data, collaborative visioning, and empowerment to support the transition to decarbonized and resilient communities in Montréal. Volt-Age’s investment closely aligns with the critical gap between knowledge and action prioritized at the upcoming Montreal Climate Summit 2024 hosted by the Montreal Climate Partnership, making it an essential contribution in the collective fight against climate change. It will also serve as a model for the creation of similar emissions data collaboratives in other Canadian and international cities.

The applied research team leading this project are: 

  • Damon Matthews – Professor and Concordia Research Chair in Climate Science and Sustainability, Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, Concordia University and Scientific Co-Director, Sustainability in the Digital Age
  • Jennifer Garard – Affiliate Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, Concordia University and Deputy Director, Sustainability in the Digital Age
  • Tracey P. Lauriault – Associate Professor of Critical Media and Big data, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University
  • Jean-Noé Landry – Lead, Data Studio, Concordia University, Obama Scholar 2021-2022, and Former Executive Director of Open North.
  • Merlin Chatwin – Executive Director, Open North
  • Annie Levasseur – Professor and Canada Research Chair in Measuring the Impact of Human Activities on Climate Change, École de technologie supérieure and Scientific Director of the Center for Intersectoral Studies and Research on the Circular Economy
  • Allison Reynaud – Co-Director, Partenariat Climat Montréal
  • Micheline Ayoub – Executive Director, Sustainability in the Digital Age

Congratulations to all the projects funded under Volt-Age! Creating a sustainable and equitable future requires a collaborative effort. We look forward to seeing the positive results and real-world impact of these research initiatives.