Lassonde celebrates International Women in Engineering Day

Woman engineer

Each year on June 23International Women in Engineering Day honours the efforts and achievements of women while highlighting the need for diversification in the field. In celebration of this day, York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering is spotlighting Zoi Ralli, Stavroula Pantazopoulou and Baoxin Hu – three of the many inspiring women at Lassonde who are demonstrating excellence in engineering through their passion, expertise and solutions-driven research.

Zoi Ralli

Zoi Ralli working in the lab.

A postdoctoral fellow in the Civil Engineering Department, Ralli has developed and tested a novel, sustainable concrete formulated with recycled waste material instead of cement.

“Cement production is a very energy-intensive process,” explains Ralli, “and it is responsible for seven per cent of carbon dioxide emissions globally.”

Ralli’s cement-free concrete addresses the extreme sustainability concerns of traditional concrete production, boasting a 70 to 90 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. The material was developed with byproducts from a Canadian quarry, comprised of Earth materials and minerals like silicon and aluminum. She also designed the concrete with microfibers to improve its overall strength and performance. These steel, needle-like fibers allow the concrete to withstand harsh conditions, while minimizing cracking and increasing durability.

Our paper shows that it is possible to completely eliminate the use of cement by replacing it with geological and industrial waste materials to develop a high-performance and sustainable concrete,” she says.

Stavroula Pantazopoulou

Professor Stavroula Pantazopoulou
Stavroula Pantazopoulou

Another achievement worth celebrating is the recent recognition of Lassonde Professor Stavroula Pantazopoulou – coincidentally, Ralli’s supervisor – as a fellow of the prestigious Canadian Academy of Engineering (CAE). This distinction reflects her significant research impact and dedication to science and engineering, further underscoring the exceptional contributions of women at Lassonde.

“For me, this award represents the most important recognition of my work,” says Pantazopoulou, who was one of a small number of highly accomplished individuals to be selected as a CAE fellow this year. “No other award compares to this one.”

This commendation is a testament to the transformative efforts Pantazopoulou has made to the field of structural engineering. Her research focuses on addressing a range of complex and emerging infrastructure concerns. In particular, she dedicates her work to enhancing the structural design of various infrastructure, to improve resistance against earthquakes and other extreme events. Though modern infrastructure is typically developed with resilient materials, many older buildings are constructed with less advanced components, posing safety risks to occupants. To address this concern, Pantazopoulou’s work aims to upgrade and retrofit older buildings with new and innovative materials.

As a newly appointed CAE fellow, she is positioned to further advance the field of structural engineering and elevate her research to new heights.

Baoxin Hu

Professor Baoxin Hu
Baoxin Hu

Hu, a professor in the Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering, is an accomplished researcher at Lassonde who recently secured significant funding – three grants in total – from the Canadian Space Agency and Forestry Futures Trust Ontario. She will use this support to advance her forest management research through remotely sensed data analysis and the development of various artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

Motivated by the urgent demand for accurate information regarding carbon sequestered forest ecosystems, as well as the need for highly qualified personnel with particular skills and knowledge to help tackle climate change, Hu is leading a multidisciplinary team to address and create solutions for carbon stock in forest ecosystems. Through funding from the Canadian Space Agency, the team will use satellite Earth observation data to develop AI methods that can accurately quantify carbon flux and stocks in Canadian forests.

With funding from Forestry Futures Trust Ontario, Hu’s second project is aimed at improving sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation by developing AI methods to survey lichens in Canadian forests. These organisms play many critical roles in forest ecosystem dynamics, like serving as a dietary source for various animals and supporting water and nutrient cycling. Using single photon LiDAR (SPL) data, Hu and her team will map and characterize lichens in the Ontario boreal forest and use this information to develop AI methods that can effectively predict lichen distribution in other forest ecosystems.

Hu’s third project, also funded by Forestry Futures Trust Ontario, will explore drone-based AI technologies, referred to as remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), and their ability to analyze conditions of forest ecosystems. Specifically, these RPAS will collect data concerning the effects of silviculture, which is the practice of controlling the growth and composition of forests. By collecting this data, different forest ecosystems can be classified based on the intensity of silviculture, enabling forest managers to gain a more comprehensive understanding of forest environments.

To learn more about the ways Lassonde provides support, resources and opportunities for women in engineering, visit Lassonde’s Women in Science & Engineering web page.

Bike Month kicks off with Transportation Services

Keele campus bikes trees Lassonde

Join York University’s Transportation Services Department to kick off Bike Month – a month-long celebration of cycling across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area – on June 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front of Vari Hall (VH Plaza) on the Keele Campus. 

During the month of June, Transportation Services is partnering with Bike Share Toronto, Cycle York and Smart Commute to celebrate Bike Month by offering York University community members a range of bike-friendly resources, including Toronto cycling maps, quick bike repairs and safety handbooks. At the June 5 event, attendees can ask questions to event partners, compete for prizes, and learn about local cycling infrastructure, related services and the benefits of bikes as a form of sustainable travel.

The annual celebration of Bike Month at York University highlights the institution’s commitment to ensuring sustainable travel options are available across its multi-campus network.  

York University was the first institution in the Greater Toronto Area to partner with Bike Share Toronto in 2021, eventually leading to three Bike Share stations being established on the Keele and Glendon campuses. This strategic partnership helped strengthen the cycling culture across university campuses and helped promote sustainable transportation.

These efforts, among others, led York University to be named a Best University for Commuters – the first institution in Canada to receive this designation. Among many reasons for the recognition, the University’s cycling infrastructure and resources – including secured bike enclosures and four do-it-yourself repair stations – were an important factor, providing cyclists with peace of mind and flexibility while navigating York’s campuses on two wheels. The designation reflects York’s commitment to providing a variety of sustainable commuting options aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of students, faculty, instructors and staff.  

Over the years, the expansion of York University’s cycling infrastructure has been equally matched by community adoption, contributing to the University’s mission to reach its new accelerated target of net-zero emissions by 2040

For more information, visit the official Bike Month website or the Transportation Services website throughout the month of June.

OsgoodePD prepares lawyers to tackle legal climate crisis challenges

Two plants with skyscraper behind

Climate change is impossible to ignore, no matter your line of work or area of study. And at York University’s Osgoode Professional Development (OsgoodePD), the curriculum reflects that fact, with professional master of laws (LLM) programs and continuing legal education offerings incorporating the latest climate change legal issues.

Benjamin Richardson broke new ground when he co-taught Osgoode Hall Law School’s first Climate Change Law course for juris doctor students back in 2008, when he was a full-time professor here. Now based at Australia’s University of Tasmania, he recently returned to OsgoodePD as an adjunct professor and was pleased to see how teaching on the topic has evolved.

Benjamin Richardson
Benjamin Richardson

“There is still a place for standalone climate change law courses,” Richardson says, “but there is now a recognition that they need to be supplemented by embedding the climate change issue across the curriculum, because it has become such a pervasive, ubiquitous issue.”

In his Corporate Social Responsibility course, part of OsgoodePD’s Professional LLM in International Business Law, Richardson’s students look at several intersections of climate and commerce, including corporate disclosure and potential greenwashing, developments in the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as how businesses can adapt to global warming for their future survival. 

Considering OsgoodePD’s particular focus on skills development for lawyers and other working professionals in practice, he says it is natural for the curriculum to contain many classes that could be characterized as climate change law courses.

Bruce McCuaig
Bruce McCuaig

“Mainstream Canadian law firms are increasingly demanding climate-literate lawyers who can advise their clients on these issues,” he explains. “It’s not enough just to know what the legislation says. You need a grounding in the economic, political, and ethical issues that affect how businesses and other stakeholders consider climate change.”

As one of three program directors for OsgoodePD’s part-time Professional LLM in Energy and Infrastructure Law, Bruce McCuaig, who has been involved with the program for the past 10 years, has noticed a significant shift in the way climate change is discussed.

“It’s a much more mature theme and topic now,” he says. “The conversation is no longer about the science of climate change or how it’s actually occurring, but more about potential action and execution.”

Jim Whitestone

According to Jim Whitestone, McCuaig’s colleague, it’s no surprise that climate change law courses are on the upswing, considering the past decade has seen some of the field’s more consequential developments.

The ripple effects of the 2015 Paris Agreement – at which almost 200 national governments agreed to ensure the globe warms by no more than two degrees Celsius this century to avoid the worst effects of climate change – are still being felt in particular as signatory nations grapple with the consequences of the net-zero emissions targets they have set for themselves in response.

Whitestone’s own history in the field goes back much further, having served as Ontario’s assistant deputy minister responsible for climate change and environmental policy. In his Climate Change: International Governance, Mitigation and Adaptation course, Whitestone focuses on the Paris Agreement and other international legal and policy frameworks now in place to address the climate crisis.

“We’re updating all the time as standards change and agreements come into place,” he says.

Domestic and international standards also feature heavily in the OsgoodePD Certificate in ESG (environmental, social and governance), Climate Risk and the Law – an intensive, five-day program designed for lawyers and other working professionals in a variety of industries where ESG risk has become a critical business priority.

Didem Light
Didem Light

As a law professor concerned with the movement of people and goods from one place to another, Didem Light says there can be few subjects more directly affected by the physical and legal implications of climate change than the one she teaches in International Transportation Law, a course offered as part of OsgoodePD’s Energy and Infrastructure LLM.  

“Climate change is going to have a very big impact,” says Light, “not just on manufacturers of vessels, cars, buses, trains and other modes of transport, but also the people who use them and the associated infrastructure: things such as ports, airports, train stations, roads and bridges.”

In other courses, the environmental links are not so obvious. At first glance, International Business Law LLM faculty member Emilio Dabed says casual observers may not make the connection between his course on Business and Human Rights and climate change. However, Dabed explores the governance gap that has traditionally allowed transnational corporations to escape effective environmental regulation, thanks to a combination of weak domestic laws and “soft law” – mostly non-binding international guidelines and standards.

Emilio Dabed
Emilio Dabed

In recent years, Dabed says these soft-law frameworks have been hardened by legally binding domestic law initiatives, the adoption of these guidelines by governments and the intervention of courts and tribunals, which have proven increasingly willing to hold transnational companies to account for their voluntary commitments in relation to human rights and the environment.

“What the course tries to convey to students is this strong link between the economic activities of transnational corporations and human rights and climate change, and how to develop a model that somehow reconciles the need for economic growth on the one hand, and the fulfillment of commitments to protect human rights and the environment on the other,” he explains.

Vanisha Sukdeo

Vanisha Sukdeo, who has a forthcoming book looking at the impact of climate change on workers, teaches a Business Associations course in OsgoodePD’s International Business Law LLM that is a popular choice with internationally trained lawyers seeking to requalify in Canada. She welcomes the global perspective her students bring to discussions, as she encourages them to think more deeply about the ideas that are frequently portrayed as solutions to the climate crisis in the western world – the electric vehicle revolution, for example.

“Electric vehicles might be reducing pollution in North America, but a lot of the mining that is needed to produce batteries is taking place on the African continent, generating more pollution there,” she says. “Has that really reduced emissions or just shifted them? That’s something for us to explore.”

As climate change has gone from an abstract concept to a reality of our daily lives, threatening to severely impact our collective future, academic institutions have been tasked with training future agents of change to tackle the threat head-on. Evidently, OsgoodePD has accepted that challenge.

York U and Philippines advance emergency response leadership with MOU


By Elaine Smith

Members of the York Emergency Mitigation, Engagement, Response, & Governance Institute (Y-EMERGE) have travelled to the Philippines to establish a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the country’s Civil Defense Training Institute (CDTI).

Earlier in 2024, Ali Asgary and Eric Kennedy, professors of disaster and emergency management and associate directors of Y-EMERGE – a York University Organized Research Unit dedicated to research and training in disaster risk reduction and emergency preparedness – were invited to Manila for the launch of CDTI and the MOU signing ceremony.

Eric Kennedy (far left) and Ali Asgary (far right) at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in Manila.
Eric Kennedy (far left) and Ali Asgary (far right) at the signing of the memorandum of understanding in Manila.

The partnership – and trip – grew out of an earlier visit to the Philippines by Provost and Vice-President Academic Lisa Phillips in November 2023 (as part of the Universities Canada Partnership Mission) where queries emerged about areas of specialization that York had in common with the country and its researchers.

Because the Philippines is ranked among the most disaster-prone countries in the world, and York’s Y-EMERGE is a national leader in emergency management, a natural fit was quickly found.

Asgary and Kennedy travelled to Manila in March for the official MOU signing, which also included a discussion about short-, medium- and long-term collaborations with York. CDTI was very interested in the work of York’s Advanced Disaster, Emergency and Rapid Response Simulation (ADERSIM) team – where Asgary is a core scientist – as well as the University’s technology and training.

Ali Asgary (right) giving a demonstration to a colleague
Ali Asgary (right) giving a demonstration to a colleague.

“We had great discussions with the senior people there,” Asgary says. “They are keen to collaborate, knowing that York has strong research and training expertise in disaster management. This formal collaboration initiative through the MOU makes it more impactful.”

The agreement is especially meaningful, since 2024 marks the 75th anniversary of Canada-Philippines diplomatic relations.

The professors also used the trip to further other York partnerships, collaborate and make new contacts. Asgary and Kennedy connected with CDTI personnel, and visited with disaster and emergency management experts at the University of the Philippines’ Resilience Institute. They also met with CIFAL Philippines, a sister organization to CIFAL York – both part of the United Nations Institute for Training & Research.

“We used this trip as a way to advance University partnerships in areas where York has exceptional strengths,” Kennedy says. “Building collaborative relationships with institutions in the Philippines is a natural connection point, given both sides have significant expertise in disaster and emergency management – and given the many hazards, including volcanoes, typhoons and earthquakes, faced in the Philippines.

Eric Kennedy during his visit
Eric Kennedy during his visit.

“The idea is to build mutual learning, collaboration and opportunities for exchange. Our new CDTI partners have an incredible amount of lived experience in managing a wide variety of hazards. Creating relationships and partnerships is so much more valuable than simply importing solutions. The best programs are born out of collaboration, so we are eager to work together to build resilience, conduct research and train the next generation of emergency leaders.”

The first product of the new partnership will be a monthly virtual speaker series about climate change displacement, an issue that is a focus for CIFAL Philippines, the Resilient Institute and the CDTI, which will begin in June as a way to share expertise and resources. It is a practical first step for the partners to undertake, but it promises to be the first of many, including research collaborations and potential student exchanges.

Asgary and Kennedy also met with numerous faculty members at the University of the Philippines for a presentation about some of their current projects and a tour of their various labs. They were able to assess where synergies exist and connect York colleagues with researchers who have similar interests.

In addition, Asgary, a specialist in volcanic emergencies and emergency simulations, and Kennedy, an expert in wildfire emergencies and decision-making during disasters, were each able to find commonalities with Filipino researchers and consider individual research collaborations.

Asgary also had the opportunity to visit two active volcanoes, as well as volcano observatories, facilitated by CDTI and their regional directors, and is already busy in working on simulations used for planning and training.

“We can now broker mutually beneficial connections and match up teams in both directions,” Kennedy says. “It was also a fruitful space to foster relationships beyond those with our three official partners. At the launch, we met representatives from a variety of organizations with overlapping interests, such as the World Food Programme and the International Organization for Migration.

“It is so important that York prioritizes this kind of in-person relationship building. There are a lot of ways to sustain relationships in the virtual world, but they are built on the foundation of in-person relationships. In-person connections are incredibly valuable.”

Vinitha Gengatharan, York’s assistant vice-president, global engagement, says Asgary and Kennedy are modelling the type of relationship the University is eager to create with its international partners.

“Knowledge sharing, respect and mutually enriching collaboration are vital ingredients for successful international partnerships,” Gengatharan says. “Ali and Eric set the standard for the type of relationships we continue to build worldwide.”

The seeds of this relationship may have just been planted, but they are already bearing fruit.

York University brings emergency management journal in-house

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

The Canadian Journal of Emergency Management (CJEM), once published independently, has migrated to York Digital Journals (YDJ) – along with its back catalogue – to pursue a shared goal of providing practitioners and academics a resource to advance their efforts to manage disasters and save lives.

CJEM was launched in 2020 to promote awareness, knowledge and best practices of emergency management in Canada. That goal was one reason that, two years later, it formed a partnership with the York Emergency Mitigation, Engagement, Response, & Governance Institute (Y-EMERGE), the largest and strongest emergency management initiative of its kind Canada, to become its official journal.

Eric Kennedy
Eric Kennedy

When CJEM joined Y-EMERGE, it gained a new editor-in-chief in Professor Eric Kennedy, a leader in the field who is also associate director of Y-EMERGE and one of six speakers in York’s award-winning Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living. One of Kennedy’s goals to open up the journal – to other fields and contributors – was to build on something CJEM had already established: being open access.

“We’re wanting to do this in the right way and make it accessible to different audiences, including those who can’t pay for a journal subscription or might not have it in their budget to afford to buy an article,” says Kennedy, who stresses that – given the often life-saving value of the latest knowledge in the field of emergency management – it’s essential to remove as many access barriers as possible.

To keep doing so, Kennedy had the idea to approach a potential key partner: York Digital Journals.

An electronic journal-hosting service run through the York University Libraries, YDJ looks to help community members create new journals or migrate existing ones online through a platform called Open Journal Systems, which can streamline submissions, peer review, editing and publishing.

After some conversations, Kennedy asked if YDJ could help do just that for CJEM. “I thought it would be a great opportunity,” says Tomasz Mrozewski, a digital publishing librarian in the Department of Digital Scholarship Infrastructure, who wanted to bring to Kennedy and the journal what they’ve done for many others at York. “What we’re really doing is helping enable certain services and certain processes,” he says.

YDJ now provides CJEM with assistance in publishing content, navigating copyright agreements with authors and promoting articles within the scholarly communications ecosystem – all while ensuring the journal is free to read and publish. In adopting more of the logistical side of publishing, YDJ aims to provide help that can have a significant impact on the future of the journal. “By taking on some of the burden of managing that infrastructure, it allows CJEM to reinvest their energy into the more specialized and demanding areas that they’re experts in,” says Mrozewski.  

Among the areas Kennedy and CJEM are reinvesting their energies is dedicating time to publish and mentor early career researchers and non-academic voices. The editorial team is guided by questions like, “How do we provide coaching and support for practitioners writing for a journal for the first time? What does it look like to provide constructive and coaching peer reviews for early career researchers, and helping practitioners get their feet under them when it comes to rigorously documenting their lived experiences and lessons learned from real-life disasters?”

The goal is to get new voices into the field of emergency management and knowledge production to ensure there is a representative cross-section of perspectives not limited by experience, background or academic record.

What we’re really excited to see is people using this knowledge and breaking down those walls between academic knowledge production and how people actually do practise in this field,” Kennedy says. “We think of our readership as being not just academics but also practitioners – fire managers, paramedics, emergency managers, and other professionals and community beyond the academy. The journal is trying to advance knowledge, but also trying to do so in a way that is relevant to the people who are at the frontlines of the climate crisis.”

To aid real-world applications, where knowledge is often time-critical and life-saving, the journal is also leveraging YDJ’s help to shift from publishing once or twice a year on a fixed timeline and moving to continually open submission calls and publication of articles. That way, the journal can publish case studies, reports or timely studies quickly – and, often, in response to an ongoing or emergent disaster – in the aim to provide help as much as it can.

“The journal can play a role in helping to avoid injuries and loss of life and the impact to communities by sharing what we’re learning about how to build resilience and how to manage disasters,” says Kennedy. “We want to be able to say, ‘The research we’re doing and mobilizing is helping to avoid adverse impacts that would be happening if we weren’t here.’ That’s the gold standard.”

For Mrozewski, that is what he hopes YDJ can help facilitate, too. “I would love to see the journal flourish with a minimal of worrying about the basics,” he says. With the future direction of the journal – and YDJ’s help – that gold standard looks very achievable.

One year later: the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living

Globe and York branded box for the Microlecture Series launch

Last year, in honour of Earth Month, York University launched the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living, an award-winning online series of six-minute interactive presentations given by six of the University’s leading sustainability scholars.

Since its release, 900 people have participated in the Microlecture Series, which has gone on to be recognized as best-in-class communications by the International Association of Business Communicators in its OVATION 2024 Awards.

Even with fast-paced developments in the world of sustainability efforts, a year later the microlectures have remained topical resources for those looking to lead more informed, sustainable lives.

Shooka Karimpour
Shooka Karimpour

There have been changes too, of course. Take Lassonde School of Engineering Professor Shooka Karimpour’s microlecture on microplastics, a subject important enough that it was selected to be this year’s Earth Day theme.

In her microlecture, Karimpour covered how the near infinite use of plastic in our world has led researchers like herself to try to better understand how microplastics – small pieces of plastic debris in the environment – journey through and impact our ecosystem.

Evidence is emerging daily showing how widespread and harmful these contaminants are, but much is still unknown regarding the adverse ecosystem and human health impacts of microplastics due to the challenge of looking at them more closely. Studying their behaviour in water – where Karimpour focuses her research – is especially challenging.

However, according to Karimpour, improvements to detection have been among the changes over the past year.

“The research community globally has been working to establish standardized protocols for detection,” she says. “There are also new technologies designed for detection of microplastics, especially those small ones that aren’t visible to naked eyes.”

One example she gives is micro-Fourier-transform infrared reflectance (FTIR) spectroscopy, which allows researchers to visualize and map microplastics in micrometre scales. She also mentions state-of-the-art research equipment, including advanced optical tools, that she uses to assess how microplastic particles interact with the surrounding water and sediments.

“Our new high-frequency particle tracking velocimetry system enables us to track the motion of microplastics in water and develop models that accurately mimic their captured motion,” she explains.

Karimpour is among those contributing to advancements through participation in several multidisciplinary research collaborations focused on the toxicity of aquatic microplastics and source identification.

In one of those projects, she is analyzing – along with Professor Raymond Kwong, a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Biology at York, and PhD student Sejal Dave – the microplastic uptake of these contaminants under dynamic conditions on selective native and invasive species in Lake Ontario, with the hope of potentially using those species as bio-indicators in water.

Efforts like these over the past year have helped advance better understanding of microplastics, but also potential mitigation – which can, of course, also be helped by non-researchers. As academics have continued to work to solve the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges, Karimpour now repeats her advice from last year around the importance of what individuals can do to effect change.  

While she admits it’s nearly impossible to avoid plastics altogether in our daily lives, she encourages incorporating small adjustments that can make a big difference. On a practical level, she says, “what is important is to use plastic-based products with a longer life span, and as much as possible avoid using single-use plastic products.” On a big-picture level, she stresses the need for awareness. “It’s important to stay informed and raise awareness on this growing environmental issue and advocate for policies reducing plastic usage and promoting sustainable alternatives,” she says.

Initiatives like the Microlecture Series can accomplish that.

Looking back on her microlecture one year later, Karimpour is proud of the impact the series has had. She believes it achieved their goal of inspiring the community to tackle societal and environmental issues, including plastic pollution. Since her microlecture was released, she reports having had many inspiring discussions about it with community members – not only from York but from schools across the Greater Toronto Area, demonstrating a broader reach than originally anticipated.

“Seeing how it has resonated with viewers and contributed to their learning journey reaffirms the importance of accessible education and the power of digital platforms in disseminating information,” she says. “I honestly believe there is the will in people – and some companies – for change.”

To watch Karimpour’s microlecture, as well as the other five in the series – and earn your Sustainable Living Ambassador Badge – visit the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living website.

York scholars collaborate on Indigenous-led climate report

York University plays a pivotal role in a groundbreaking report entitled “For Our Future: Indigenous Resilience Report,” which underscores the vital contribution of Indigenous communities in tackling climate change.

The report, a cornerstone of Canada’s National Knowledge Assessment, is co-authored by an almost entirely Indigenous team comprised of Indigenous authors, Elders, wisdom keepers and youth from across the country.

Key figures from York include Professor Deborah McGregor, who is Anishinaabe from Whitefish River First Nation, Birch Island, Ont., and holds the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Environmental Justice, and former postdoctoral fellow Graeme Reed, now a strategic adviser with the Assembly of First Nations.

Deborah McGregor
Deborah McGregor

“Dr. Reed was lead author, along with Dr. Shari Fox, and coordinated a primarily Indigenous author team for the report,” says McGregor, who has prior experience with climate assessments, notably the “Health of Canadians in a Changing Climate Report,” released in 2022. 

“Natural Resources Canada has coordinated Canada’s climate assessment reports for over a decade. Yet the climate change reports, although important, did not reflect the climate realities and experiences of Indigenous Peoples in Canada,” McGregor continues. 

“To advance the experience, perspectives and realities of Indigenous Peoples in Canada about climate change, it was important to ensure Indigenous Peoples have their voice and conduct their assessment.”

Graeme Reed
Graeme Reed

Organized according to five key themes, the report highlights Indigenous Peoples’ unique strengths in responding to environmental and climate challenges, positioning them as active agents of resilience and leadership.

Within the research framework, the report underscores the essential role of Indigenous knowledge systems and lived experiences in shaping effective climate action, particularly within the context of food, water and ecosystem interrelationships, and emphasizes the significance of self-determination in Indigenous-led climate initiatives.

At the core of York involvement in the report is the recognition of colonialism’s historical impact, including its role in shaping societal attitudes toward the environment. While acknowledging the multi-faceted nature of climate change and the need to address systemic injustices and historical legacies contributing to environmental degradation, the report also reframes Indigenous Peoples as active agents of resilience and leadership, challenging perceptions of them as passive victims of climate change.

“Drs. McGregor and Reed showcase through this collaborative report their continued national leadership in the discussions of why Indigenous Peoples and our knowledge must be at the forefront of the response to climate change. This continues to demonstrate how Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Languages (CIKL) researchers are making positive impacts not only at the policy level but also through community-led and driven environmental and climate-based research,” says Sean Hillier, director of the CIKL at York University. 

By amplifying Indigenous voices and perspectives, the report seeks to influence broader climate governance, policy development and decision-making processes, paving the way for meaningful Indigenous climate leadership.

“Climate assessments are intended to influence climate governance, policy development and decisions. We hope that this report influences the broader climate policy landscape to truly reflect the potential of Indigenous climate leadership,” says McGregor.

“Ideally, this report can form the foundation for Indigenous governments, organizations and communities to formulate their own climate policies, strategies and plans.”

‘We must never give up,’ Jane Goodall tells York community

Jane Goodall at podium BANNER

On April 9, at a special ceremony to award Jane Goodall with an honorary degree, the renowned primatologist and anthropologist shared stories from her life and career with attendees. She also shared why – despite the immense challenges the natural world faces at the expense of climate change – she has hope for the future.

“I still don’t really understand what’s happened to me,” she told the York audience about a career that has led her to become one of the world’s most famous anthropologists and primatologists. Nonetheless, she made an attempt to help those in attendance understand how she became the world-renowned figure she is today from – what she considers – a simple beginning.

“I was born loving animals,” Goodall explained, recounting how as a young child she would climb a tree and watch birds, squirrels, spiders and other creatures. If she couldn’t observe the magic of the natural world directly, she’d read about it indirectly through fantasy-tinged books like Tarzan of the Apes and The Story of Doctor Dolittle. With both novels’ ties to Africa, a seed was planted early for Goodall: she wanted to see the continent herself.

President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton with Jane Goodall
President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton with Jane Goodall.

Goodall recounted how many questioned the logic of that newfound desire to travel to Africa and – perhaps – live with the wild animals like Tarzan and write books about them. “Everybody laughed at me,” Goodall said.

Throughout her address, she returned to the importance of the people most important to her journey, and among them was her mother who – even when she was young – never laughed at Goodall’s interest in animals. Once, when Goodall was very young, her mother found she had brought a handful of earthworms to bed. “Jane, you’re looking at them so earnestly, as if you’re monitoring how they’re walking without legs,” she noted. Then, very quietly, she nudged: “We better take them back to the garden.”

Goodall received a similar degree of gentle motherly guidance as she considered pursuing her interest in animals in Africa. “If you really want to do something like this, then you have to work really hard, take advantage of every opportunity, and if you don’t give up, hopefully you’ll find a way,” Goodall recalls her mother saying. “That’s the message I take around the world, particularly to young people, particularly to girls in disadvantaged communities.”

Goodall certainly took that message with her at the time, and did find her way to Africa, becoming a secretary to renowned British paleontologist Louis Leakey in Kenya. As Leakey began seeing Goodall interacting with local animals, he saw something in her. “He apparently decided that I was the person he’d been looking for to be the first to study chimpanzees in the wild,” Goodall said.

So, she did.

For a while, everything that would happen next – the exposure and support she received through National Geographic, the leadership she would demonstrate in guiding science to completely reconsider chimpanzee behaviour and more – would have seemed unlikely to Goodall when she began her immersive study.

The first few weeks were difficult. “For four or five months, the chimps took one look at me and vanished into the forest,” she recalled. She felt like she was making no progress. Goodall’s mother, who had volunteered to come with her to Tanzania, saw it differently, pointing to how in that limited time Goodall had already learned much about the chimpanzees: what they ate, how they communicated and what their communal dynamics were. “She said, ‘You’re learning more than you think,’” Goodall recalls of her mother.

Soon after there also came a turning point in the form of a chimpanzee she would come to call David Gray Beard. “He began to lose his fears [of me] before the others,” she said, which led to her getting close enough to him to observe an – at the time – revolutionary insight: chimpanzees could make and use tools. “That really changed everything,” Goodall said.

Jane Goodall with a special friend
Goodall with a special friend.

In time, Leakey wanted her work to be recognized by the scientific community, elements of which rejected her. Notably, they questioned the empathetic connection Goodall formed with the apes – something she, to this day, is known and beloved for. “’You cannot have empathy with animals and be a good scientist. You have got to be objective. You cannot be objective if you have empathy,’” she recalled being told.

That revolutionary empathy has been a landmark of not just Goodall’s work with apes, but advocacy for the natural world. That was something that especially flourished when she returned to Tanzania to start a research station after her first immersive study among the chimpanzees.

“I got to understand the ecosystem of the forest,” she said. “I see it as like a tapestry. And every time a species disappears from that ecosystem, you pull that thread from a tapestry. And if you pull in other threads, that ecosystem will collapse.”

She began to wonder what would happen if climate change were allowed to run unabated, or if humans don’t do something to control biodiversity loss. She could see first hand the impact poverty has on the environment, “because when people are poor, out in the rural areas, they’re destroying the environment simply to survive.” And the young people she would encounter were similarly concerned with the future. “Young people were losing hope. They were angry,” she said.

Addressing the students in the audience, Goodall admitted the old had have been compromising the future of the young for generations. However, Goodall said there is much that gives her hope. “If we get together, we can start to slow down climate change,” she said. She’s encouraged by many people throughout the world wanting to work to solve the challenges the Earth currently faces. “I’m sure there are students even right here working to try and solve particular problems,” she added.

“There is always hope,” she said. “We must never give up.”

York research advances flood risk management with AI

flood surrounding traffic sign BANNER

In a recently published paper, Rahma Khalid, a PhD candidate in the Civil Engineering Department at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, and her supervisor, Associate Professor Usman Khan, proposed a promising new model for flood susceptibility mapping (FSM) that incorporates artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning (ML) methods.

Flood susceptibility mapping – the process of identifying potential flood-prone areas based on their physical characteristics – is a valuable technique used to identify areas that are vulnerable to flooding and inform risk mitigation and protection strategies. Unfortunately, conventional FSM methods rely on time-consuming physical and mathematical models that are also limited in their ability to predict flood risk across large regions.

Rahma Khalid
Rahma Khalid

“We have seen that physical and mathematical models can be very inconvenient for flood susceptibility mapping, especially when it comes to analyzing large areas,” says Khalid. “From a research perspective, we know that using machine learning can improve the speed and efficiency of different processes. This is why we proposed a flood susceptibility mapping model that is leveraged by machine learning for more accurate, rapid and reliable results.”

In their paper, titled “Flood susceptibility mapping using ANNs: a case study in model generalization and accuracy from Ontario, Canada,” Khalid and Khan document how they put their idea to the test and utilized an ML model to map out different regions in southern Ontario and determine their flood susceptibility.

Usman Khan
Usman Khan

They did so by using previously gathered data from different regions across southern Ontario, allowing the model to interpret, identify and predict areas that are at risk of flooding.

The model’s performance was also compared against conventional physical and mathematical models, as well as various emerging ML methods.

“When it comes to flood susceptibility mapping in real-world scenarios, machine learning models have not really been used,” says Khalid. “Industry members are also hesitant to apply these models because there is very little information about their accuracy and reliability.”

Khalid and Khan’s proposed model addressed limitations of other FSM models through training and testing that proved it to be a superior method for flood susceptibility mapping, outperforming other models. It even demonstrated novel capabilities that can help advance the future of flood risk management.

“Our model demonstrated a novel ability to accurately predict flood susceptibility, even across areas that we did not provide training data for,” says Khalid. “Knowing this, we can work towards training our model to understand more about different regions and further improve its ability to predict flood susceptibility in larger areas.”

Currently, Khalid and Khan are working on enhancing the performance of their model with a particular focus on improving data resolution, as well exploring the possibility of supplementing their model with additional ML methods.

Schulich partnership seeks to address global infrastructure gap

Two engineers working on solar panel roof

Schulich Real Assets – an area within York University’s Schulich School of Business that focuses on tangible investments – is teaming up with the Global Infrastructure Investor Association (GIIA) to offer the next generation of leaders more tools and resources to help them tackle the climate crisis through sustainable infrastructure projects.

Schulich is one of a few schools around the world offering graduate education focused on the increasingly important and evolving real assets field, with both a master of business administration specialization in real estate and infrastructure and a unique, 12-month Master of Real Estate and Infrastructure program.

This new partnership is designed to help increase private investment into infrastructure projects that are supporting the global transition to cleaner energy.

Jim Clayton
Jim Clayton

“We look forward to working together with GIIA and its members towards the common goal of promoting an infrastructure investment ecosystem that mobilizes private capital,” said Professor Jim Clayton, the Timothy R. Price Chair in Real Estate and Infrastructure at Schulich and the MREI program director. “We are excited by the alignment and synergy of the collaboration.”

Through new research and educational programming opportunities, Schulich students will now be empowered with knowledge and resources to deliver the infrastructure that communities need to thrive, with GIIA’s global membership base also helping them to expand their networks and experience.

“It is critical to empower emerging leaders in our industry with the skills and specialist knowledge that enables them to unlock the potential for infrastructure investment, so we can grow the market, and bring in the capital to make the major investments that governments alone cannot afford,” said Jon Phillips, chief executive officer of GIIA, which represents 100 of the world’s leading investors and advisors in infrastructure.

“Since Canada is already a hub for innovation in the infrastructure investment industry, partnering with Schulich makes good sense,” he said.