Confronting a paradox: Esteban Salcedo wins prestigious scholarship for his research on regulating marine renewable energy

Posted on Thursday, January 31, 2019

Solving climate change is, in a word, complex. Google those three words, “solving climate change,” and you’ll turn up thousands of opinions, strategies and blueprints for how to best tackle the problem. While it’s encouraging to see such a wealth of proposed solutions, we can’t simply implement them all at once.  What if solving a problem in one area of the world causes a different problem in another? Do we risk causing unknown harms to the environment in our attempts to solve known problems?

Paradoxical harm is an emerging concept used to designate the adverse impacts of new practices developed to fight a different set of negative outcomes. It’s a concept that is very real in the search for climate change solutions. Luckily, uOttawa doctoral student Esteban Salcedo is committed to alleviating one such paradoxical conundrum by rethinking how the law regulates renewable marine energy.

In an effort to meet climate change commitments, many countries are turning towards wave, tidal and offshore wind technologies as alternatives to fossil fuels. With coasts on three oceans, Canada is exceptionally well-positioned to take advantage of marine energy. Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy, in particular, is home to the world’s largest tides, and the province is positioning itself as a global leader in the tidal energy sector. But “the impact of marine renewable energy on the environment, fisheries, navigation and Aboriginal and coastal communities is not fully mapped,” says Mr. Salcedo. Could a well-intentioned effort to combat climate change through clean energy strategies paradoxically create different environmental and social harms? Moreover, could governments be inclined to relax certain important governance and regulatory processes in pursuit of carbon mitigation goals?

“Despite some regulatory progress in Canada and abroad,” says Mr. Salcedo, “current frameworks are ill-equipped to address the new issues triggered by experimental devices at sea.  These frameworks must be updated in order to better address emerging problems such as harms to ecosystems and conflicts of use in a progressively industrialized ocean.” While much of the research on marine renewable energies is focused on science, technology and social impact, there is very little research on the legal and governance frameworks. Mr. Salcedo’s research examines the regulation of tidal, wave, and offshore wind energy through the lens of paradoxical harm. “My research will address the nascent issues associated with marine renewables,” he says, “examining existing regulatory frameworks and suggesting a governance model that best deals with the paradoxical harms of renewable energies at sea. My doctoral project will specifically focus on risk management schemes, power relations in decision-making processes and public participation from a legal perspective.”

This groundbreaking work has already received a ringing endorsement. Mr. Salcedo has earned one of the most prestigious scholarships available to Canadian doctoral students, the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship. The Bombardier Scholarships Program aims to “develop research skills and assist in the training of highly qualified personnel by supporting students who demonstrate a high standard of scholarly achievement in undergraduate and graduate studies in the social sciences and humanities” (SSHRC Doctoral Awards).  Valued at $35,000 over a period of three years, the scholarships are awarded through an open competition that sees submissions across a wide variety of eligible subject areas.

The Bombardier scholarship will allow Mr. Salcedo to seriously consider a formal research stay abroad, at an institution working specifically on ocean governance and marine renewables. While his research has been mainly doctrinal so far, he is interested in doing some field observations to really connect with the subject of his research. This could include taking a closer look at marine renewable energy technologies in coastal areas in Canada and elsewhere. The Bombardier scholarship makes this kind of fieldwork feasible.  

Mr. Salcedo is supervised by Sophie Thériault of the Civil Law Section, and Heather McLeod-Kilmurray of the Common Law Section. “I chose the University of Ottawa’s law faculty because it stands at the crossroads of common law and civil law traditions,” he says. “This specificity allows me to draw from the expertise of academics working on both sides, which is truly beneficial for comparative research. I also chose the University of Ottawa because of its multiple environmental research forums such as the Centre for Environmental Law and Global Sustainability and the opportunity to work with excellent environmental law professors such as my supervisors. The University of Ottawa certainly believes in the urgent need to advance environmental law research.”

Congratulations to Mr. Salcedo on this exceptional achievement!

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