Learn how this ERS alumn founded Canada’s first law firm dedicated to climate change

Laura Zizzo in a courtyard

If a city government builds a public works project like a viaduct, but chooses to ignore climate change projections in its design, and that viaduct then floods a neighborhood, who is responsible? Ultimately it’s for the courts to decide – and there are very few precedents to draw upon. These interesting and thorny issues prompted Environment and Resource Studies (ERS) graduate Laura Zizzo to found Canada’s first law firm devoted to the legal impacts of climate change.

Shortly after arriving at the University of Waterloo, Zizzo’s supervisors in ERS noticed her legal mind. “It was the ability to ask questions and be critical right from the start that was great for me, and ERS actually got me oriented towards law school, realizing it was a good fit for me.”

Following her undergrad in ERS she moved on to law school and eventually got a job working on environmental law with Gowlings – one of Canada’s most prestigious firms.

The experience was great, but Zizzo was looking to apply more of her education and dedication to the climate change to her work.  She branched out on her own, found a like-minded partner and established the climate change firm Zizzo Allan Climate Law LLP in the financial district in Toronto.

Starting from scratch with no clients, she got out her rolodex and began setting up lunch meetings to pitch her innovative legal perspective. Pioneering a new kind of law took some explaining.

“General environmental law is generally about pollution and contaminated sites. So either it comes out of a pipe or out of a smoke stack, and dealing with the regulatory aspects of that,” she says. “Climate change law is more about how to deal with greenhouse gas sanctions and how to adapt to the effects of climate change.”

For instance, greenhouse gas emissions are not as regulated as other forms of emissions, and the regulatory régime related to greenhouse gas emissions is just developing.

“A lot of our work is around developing those regimes and what they are going to look like,” says Zizzo. “We take no sides to finding solutions. It’s kind of our firm’s motto. We look at anything that moves towards a low carbon economy and adapts to the effects of climate change as a positive step that we want to help facilitate.”

Zizzo Allan has grown fast, and now features a roster of clients including charities like YMCA of Greater Toronto and a number of high profile environmental NGOs, provincial government departments, retailers of carbon credits, and clean tech start-ups. The scope of Zizzo’s practice explores new territory. “Carbon offsets are an important area for our business,” she explains. “We help people buy and trade carbon credits – understanding how to incent GHG reductions is central to climate change law.”