March 7, 2022

Professor explores international, domestic climate change law

David Wright looks to answer the question of fairness in climate change mitigation.
Professor David Wright

David Wright, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law, is no stranger to the law and policy aspects of climate change. In fact, it has been a focus of his scholarly and professional endeavors for more than 15 years. With a dual focus on domestic and international climate change law, he keeps a close eye on developments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, more specifically on emissions trading and issues of fairness and responsibility in climate change mitigation. 

“Within the area of climate change mitigation, I’ve been looking at what’s known in climate speak as “loss and damage,” which relates to determining who will pay what for the costs and impacts of climate change, particularly on developing countries.” 

According to Wright, the area of loss and damage is related to the broader, perpetually unresolved issue of fairness. 

“A key question that perpetually interests me in the climate change realm is: what does fairness require? Who needs to pay? Who needs to reduce emissions by how much?” he says. While the Paris Agreement sets a framework for this, many details remain unresolved.  

The research links back to his graduate studies at Dalhousie University which looked at the Clean Development Mechanism, which was a way for developed countries to fund clean energy projects in developing countries and count emission reductions toward the developed country’s targets under the Kyoto Protocol.  

Wright also researches the use of market mechanisms to achieve emission reductions, including emissions trading between jurisdictions and use of the “social cost of carbon” in regulatory rule-making. This includes a focus on the importance of emission reductions that have integrity, are verified and accurate, and are monitored like any other aspect of the international emissions reduction regimes.  

On the domestic front, Wright is exploring the integration of climate change considerations into several areas of environmental law, particularly through the new Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, which came into force less than a year ago. 

“The Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act represents a missing piece of the puzzle that will help bring transparency and policy coherence across all jurisdictions in Canada in a way that has not existed before,” explains Wright.

We have a patchwork of climate change laws and policies across the country, and this act has potential to enhance accountability and provide a comprehensive bird’s eye view of who is doing what and will do what.  

Wright appeared before the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainability Development in May 2021, and again in June 2021 with the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, to share his insight on the Act. He provided his perspectives on the then proposed act’s strengths and weaknesses, particularly with respect to institutional dimensions and constitutional constraints on the federal government. The first federal climate plan required under the act is due out by the end of this month, and Wright is looking forward to incorporating that in his current research, while also using it as ‘hot off the press’ content in his current environmental law course.