Sarah Mason-Case

Study program:
Law and International Relations
Current affiliation:
University of Toronto

Sarah Mason-Case (law and international relations, University of Toronto) examines how diverse communities of state and non-state actors, including civil advocates, Indigenous coalitions, and industry, engage in lawmaking practices that define the contours of international climate change law.

Doctoral research

Practices of Legality in International Law: Diversity, Contestation and the Evolving Climate Regime

Climate change is an immense problem that global society is struggling to contain. Law is a potentially powerful tool for combating climate change because, in its domestic, transnational and international guises, it can establish obligations across jurisdictions and sectors. Legal norms can specify emission reductions, enable public participation, foster accountability and affirm human rights. They may also be enshrined in sources, such as statutes, that are publicly transparent. However, the continuous practices through which law is made and remade are not sufficiently understood. This is particularly so in the climate change context where legal norms cross diverse public and private systems. What does the actual practice of climate change law entail?

Drawing on international law and international relations theories, Sarah’s dissertation examines how a range of actors not traditionally considered lawmakers – including civil advocates, Indigenous peoples and industry – collectively articulate, diffuse and sustain climate law alongside state actors. Her research focuses on the plurality of sites where diverse actors engage in lawmaking practices (in “communities of practice”), how they interact with one another, and whether they are excluded from, or influential in, contributing to a globally connected system of standards to control climate change. She describes and analyzes such practices of legality in the context of contestation over the concept of climate justice becoming more or less embedded in the international climate regime.

Sarah Mason-Case is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. She has many years of academic and professional experience in the areas of law reform, sustainable development and climate change governance. Sarah has assisted with assessments of legal frameworks and capacity building support in jurisdictions, including Canada, Vietnam, Mexico, Zambia and Kenya. She is currently Adjunct Faculty at Osgoode Hall Law School, and a Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Doctoral Scholar.   

From 2010 to 2016, Sarah specialized in law reform, domestically at the Law Commission of Ontario, and internationally at the International Development Law Organization. At the Law Commission, she managed projects to improve access to justice for vulnerable persons, concerning health and social care. Her achievements at the international level include managing partnerships with United Nations agencies, evaluating legal frameworks for investments in low-carbon projects, and attending United Nations climate negotiations. In 2017, she was appointed a member of the World Commission on Environmental Law.

Sarah’s current research draws on such experiences to examine what the process of lawmaking to control climate change entails at international, domestic and transnational levels of governance. Focusing on the plurality of legal practices in global relations, her work analyzes the social interactions of diverse state and non-state actors that generate, diffuse and institutionalize climate law in communities of practice, and their transformative potential.

Sarah strives to disseminate knowledge about law and policy approaches to climate change. Her publications have been recognized with several awards, including the Transnational Environmental Law Scholarship Prize (Cambridge University Press) and the Award of Excellence in Legal Scholarship on Sustainable Development. She previously sat on the Executive Board of the McGill Journal of Sustainable Development Law and Equity Advisory Group of the Law Society of Upper Canada. Among other recent pursuits, Sarah directs the International and Transnational Law Research Laboratory at the University of Toronto, and sits on the Environmental Sustainability Committee of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.

Prior to her current studies, Sarah received an LL.M. in Environmental Law (McGill University Faculty of Law and School of Environment), an LL.B. (Osgoode Hall Law School), and a B.A. in Philosophy, Art History and World Religions (McGill University and l’Université Paris-Sorbonne).