A calm lake in the mountains at dusk
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June 5, 2021

Professors, students research works to protect natural world

June 5 is World Environment Day

The emergence of COVID-19 has also shown just how disastrous the consequences of ecosystem loss can be. By shrinking the area of natural habitat for animals, we have created ideal conditions for pathogens – including coronaviruses – to spread.

With this big and challenging picture, World Environment Day is focused on ecosystem restoration and its theme is “Reimagine. Recreate.Restore.”

Ecosystem restoration means preventing, halting and reversing this damage – to go from exploiting nature to healing it. This World Environment Day will kick off the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), a global mission to revive billions of hectares, from forests to farmlands, from the top of mountains to the depth of the sea.

Only with healthy ecosystems can we enhance people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change and stop the collapse of biodiversity.

Dr. Fenner Stewart, PhD

Dr. Fenner Stewart, PhD

Mapping Canada's climate governance network

Dr. Fenner Stewart, PhD, is an associate professor at UCalgary Law. He is also the principal investigator of a multistage, multiyear, SSHRC-funded project. The project aims to map Canada’s climate governance network, identify where institutional supports are needed, then assist in building them. By the end of 2021, Fenner hopes that the mapping stage will be complete. This mapping research will result in two open-source, edited volumes. Each volume will identify key strategies for accelerating the decarbonization process in Canada.

The project has financial and in-kind support from the Government of Canada, the University of Calgary, the Canada Climate Law Initiative, the Centre for Business Law at UBC, the Canadian Institute of Resources Law, the Commonwealth Climate and Law Initiative, and Oxford University. The diverse group of experts participating in the first stages of this project includes Janis Sarra (the Founder and Principal Co-Investigator of the Canada Climate Law Initiative and Director of the Commonwealth Climate and Law Initiative); Margot Hurlbert (Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Climate Change); John Borrows (Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law); and Céline Bak (a climate specialist knighted in France for mobilizing the private sector before the Paris Agreement). “Support for this project has been extraordinary,” Fenner reports, “I am honoured to have so many important and capable people lending their efforts to help ensure this project’s success.”

Some of our top students are also project members. João Victor Germano de Aquino Lima reflects upon the project and remarks that “it is interesting to see the development of network governance in action, and how it can be used to tackle the complexity of climate change.” He sees significant advantages in “getting the private sector involved and aligning their financial interests with long-term climate goals.” He adds that such strategies are “likely to produce creative, sustainable, and tailored solutions at a more local level” to the problems that climate change creates. While Shaun Williamson feels that “working with Fenner on this project has been a great opportunity to see how law and governance theory can be harnessed to help pull climate policy forward.”

Amelia Harman finds the project work rewarding, noting it is “important and necessary since it brings together and shares a diversity of perspectives, knowledge, and understandings of what climate policy means to different actors.” While Laura Glover finds the project’s progress “incredibly encouraging and inspiring,” noting how “experts from many backgrounds, areas of expertise, and from all around the world are contributing to the success of this important project.” She adds that working on the project to date has added “a greater breadth of knowledge” to her understanding “of how policy initiatives can help in the battle against climate change.”

Charlotte Woo describes this project as “very relevant as Canada continues to take steps to reduce carbon emissions”. She adds that working on the project has been “a fantastic learning experience,” and it has granted her an opportunity “to learn more about how to inspire change in ways not typically taught in law school.”  Similarly, Katelyn Deyholos explains that working on the project has been “a great learning opportunity.” She adds that “projects like this are essential for future climate policy.” Finally, Nick Ettinger adds that working on the project has “provided the very type of exposure to Canada's climate policy network that I had hoped to gain in coming to law school at the University of Calgary.”

Professor David Wright

Professor David Wright

The role of cost-benefit analysis in environmental decision-making

One stream of Professor David Wright’s research is focused on the role of cost-benefit analysis (CBA) in environmental decision-making. Unlike other jurisdictions where CBA has prominent roles in natural resources and environmental law and policy, CBA has had relatively limited deployment in Canada. Instead, weighing of burdens and benefits tends to take place without a transparent analytical framework for examining trade-offs and values. This is particularly problematic given the ongoing degradation of ecosystems and the immense value they hold at local, regional and global levels. As an existing analytical tool for deciding whether or not to proceed with a particular course of action, CBA may serve as a methodology that generates more consistent, transparent and defensible decision-making. This may in turn may address a marked decline in public confidence in government decision-making, which is exacerbated in today’s “post-truth” context.

This area of Prof Wright’s research may also contribute to better understanding important CBA critiques and limitations, especially where monetary values may be inappropriate, for example in relation to the rights and interests of Indigenous communities. This research project also stands to advance knowledge about CBA in a context where ambitious decarbonization agendas are likely to accelerate proposals for major infrastructure projects and changes to review and permitting processes. In the current context, where governments are implementing post-COVID-19 economic recovery measures within a “new normal” that includes shifts in the assumptions and values that underpinned pre-pandemic decision-making, CBA may hold potential to be calibrated with societal shifts (e.g. shifted risk tolerances) and then serve as a grounding mechanism for decision-makers in an otherwise fluid and untethered context. Professor Wright has applied for a Tri-Council grant to pursue this research further.