March 7, 2018

Law prof researches effects of changing environment on our bridges and roads

Rudiger Tscherning looks at who is responsible for protecting Canada’s public utilities infrastructure against climate change.

It’s hard to imagine that concrete and steel could be affected by climate change. But Rudiger Tscherning, a professor in the Faculty of Law, has just received funding to conduct research into the effects of environmental changes on Canada’s public utilities infrastructure, including electricity grids, water infrastructure and gas pipeline systems.

The research project examines the legal question of "climate adaptation jurisdiction" to identify the parties that may be responsible, and legally able, to take adaptation measures to prepare infrastructure against the impacts of a changing environment. Adaptation means identifying the potential risks of climate change on critical infrastructure and finding appropriate legal responses to enable these measures to be taken.

Professor Rudiger Tscherning

Professor Rudiger Tscherning received a grant from the Foundation for Legal Research

Should responsibility be shared?

“As the question of climate adaptation is a novel one, it is not entirely clear if the public sector or private parties, or a combination of both, should be responsible for adapting infrastructure against the effects of climate change in Canada,” says Tscherning. “This project challenges the important question of legal ‘jurisdiction’ for climate adaptation and asks who can be compelled to undertake these measures.” The all-important question of financial responsibility for climate adaptation and the potential role of the insurance sector will also be examined in the project.

Tscherning has received $5,000 in funding from the Foundation for Legal Research in support of this project. Tscherning notes that “the FLR’s funding will contribute to hiring of a student research assistant at the Faculty of Law. This is an important opportunity to expose our students to an emerging and exciting area of the legal implications of climate change in Canada. I would like to thank the FLR for this generous opportunity.”

Building on previous international research

The project will build upon Tscherning’s prior international research focusing on the legal framework for climate mitigation and adaptation in both Europe and the Middle East. It forms part of a wider research project that focuses on the risk factors of developing energy infrastructure projects in the international context.