What’s the Forecast?

Safeguarding the future health of the earth

Forest fires raging across the Indonesian archipelago created a haze that blanketed much of Southeast Asia in October 2015.
REUTERS/Darren Whiteside
Ice sheets
Jason Edwards/National Geographic Creative

sustainability is about doing what’s required today to ensure we have tomorrow.

How do we address climate change without first changing the politics around it? Can a society dependent on fossil fuels adapt to smarter alternatives? These are the kinds of sustainability questions explored at the Munk School – and in particular at the Environmental Governance Lab – as students and researchers look for ways to align divergent interests with proven best practices.


(left to right) MGA students Christopher Villegas-Cho, Adam Singer, Alessandra Jenkins and Omar Bitar during the MGA Hult Prize case competition.
A woman fetches drinking water from a well along a dry river near Gokwe, Zimbabwe.
REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Living for the City

The 2015–2016 lineup of MGA Capstone Projects included a sustainability initiative focused on the Munk School’s urban backyard. Developed in collaboration with the City of Toronto, “Transformation Toronto 2050: Learning from Global Best Practice” assigned graduate students to several areas – including energy, buildings and transportation – targeted by the Environment & Energy Division and the non-profit Toronto Atmospheric Fund as the city strives for an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

In consultation with municipal staff, students identified cities around the world that offered valuable examples of emissions reduction and other climate change initiatives. They then developed proposals for how the lessons learned in these other cities could be applied in Toronto. Guiding the project was Prof. John Robinson, who joined the Munk School in January 2016 with a cross-appointment in U of T’s School of the Environment. A leading expert on climate change mitigation and adaptation, Prof. Robinson has created a series of living labs around the world fostering “regenerative sustainability” – human activity that simultaneously improves environmental and social well-being.

Water on the Brain

While oil has captured the headlines in recent years, an even more vital natural resource is expected to dominate the global agenda in the decades ahead: water. Crucial for social and economic well-being, yet too often taken for granted in regions with a perceived abundance, water has the power to sustain life – while its scarcity has the potential to create political divisions, social unrest and conflict between nations.

Studying the complexities of an impending world water shortage requires a multidisciplinary approach spanning the physical, life and social sciences. This is the vision behind a new course added to the MGA program in 2015: Water as a Global Challenge – Science, Economics and the Politics of Policy Making. Led by Prof. Teresa Kramarz, the course is taught by a team of professors from the Munk School, the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and the Department of Economics. By applying tools and insights from a range of water-related fields, students can better understand the challenge and explore effective, equitable and sustainable solutions.

“We use case studies modelled on real scenarios to investigate water scarcity issues in local, regional and national contexts. Blending lectures and discussions with team activities, we help students develop workable solutions.”

– Prof. Teresa Kramarz


REUTERS/Bret Hartman

When multiple stakeholders collaborate on a global environmental initiative, who is responsible for its outcomes, and how can they be held to account?

Hold the Carbon

The pursuit of a smaller carbon footprint has many players pushing ahead simultaneously, from corporations and public institutions to municipal, provincial/state and national governments. But what are the right political conditions for ensuring these diverse initiatives reach their common goal – moving an entire society beyond its current dependence on fossil fuels?

This is the challenge addressed by a project entitled “Transformative Policy Pathways Towards Decarbonization,” launched in 2013 by Prof. Matthew Hoffmann and Prof. Steven Bernstein, Co-Directors of the Environmental Governance Lab. Funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the project is a collaboration among researchers in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Sweden. In the past year, their collective efforts yielded tangible results as the research team began publishing extensively and applying their findings to practical policy options for breaking the carbon habit.

Tomorrow the World

In 2015, the Environmental Governance Lab became the first Canadian research centre invited to join the Earth Systems Governance (ESG) project, the world’s largest social science research network focused on the institutions and mechanisms regulating our relationship with the natural environment. “As an ESG centre, we’ll be further developing resources and networks within Canada and beyond,” says Prof. Steven Bernstein who, with his Co-Director Prof. Matthew Hoffmann, has been active in the ESG network since 2012. “The new collaborations and research this makes possible will advance the conversation around governance issues in the context of global environmental change.”

Where the Buck Stops

In the various research projects and collaborations radiating from the Munk School’s Environmental Governance Lab, a recurring refrain is the need to better define and measure accountability. When multiple stakeholders collaborate on a global environmental initiative, who is responsible for its outcomes, and how can they be held to account?

Over the past year, Prof. Teresa Kramarz has been investigating the problem of accountability in global environmental governance with Prof. Susan Park from the University of Sydney, Australia. Funded by a grant from the International Studies Association, the two scholars have established a global research network of more than 30 colleagues who examine various aspects of accountability in the environmental arena. Their collective research is helping to reshape understanding of how accountability should be formally integrated into public, private and hybrid environmental governance systems.


The Hon. Catherine McKenna discussing her experience leading the Canadian delegation to COP21.
Left to right: The Hon. Catherine McKenna meets MGA students Digvijay Mehra, Kirstyn Koswin, Maria Baginska, Emile Lavergne and Mustafa Sayed.

Returning Messages

The Hon. Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, has worn many hats in her career, including international trade lawyer, treaty negotiator for the UN, co-founder of the charity Canadian Lawyers Abroad – and instructor at the Munk School. In February 2016, Ms. McKenna returned to the school (where she was also a board member of the Trudeau Centre for Peace, Conflict and Justice) to deliver a talk entitled “After Paris: New Thinking for a New Way Forward.” Invoking her experience leading the Canadian delegation to COP21, the UN conference in Paris that yielded a historic climate change agreement in December 2015, the Minister challenged students to seek new solutions to the challenges of excessive carbon emissions and the devastating effects of changing weather patterns.

Talk About the Weather

Concerns over global climate change loomed large throughout 2015, both in discussions among researchers, policy-makers and political leaders, and in the broader public discourse sparked by constant news stories about weather-related calamities. The Environmental Governance Lab contributed to the global conversation – particularly around the UN climate change summit in Paris – as Co-Directors Prof. Steven Bernstein and Prof. Matthew Hoffmann shared their insights through the media and participated in popular online forums devoted to illuminating and debating environmental issues.

The Environmental Governance Lab also co-sponsored two well-received public panels at the University of Toronto: one, in partnership with the School of Public Policy & Governance, discussed the significance of climate change in Canada’s federal election; the other, co-hosted with the Faculty of Law, explored the implications of the Paris climate change agreement.

Palestinians paddle a boat in flood waters during a winter storm in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
After COP21 in Paris, a panel of experts gathered to assess the future of the global climate.

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