The coronavirus pandemic isn’t the only crisis we are currently facing. Issues that were previously at the forefront of the news have since taken a backseat. We need to be reminded of the climate clock in Manhattan’s Union square, David Attenborough’s documentary warning us that we are in a crucial moment to act, or the UN stating that we have 10 years to act before the climate crisis becomes irreversible. These issues will not go away by us not talking about them and not acting to stop them. Co-founder of the Legal Line Up Annabel Smith discusses, what the legal sector do to help with climate change?
The heightened awareness of climate change, which stems in part from a societal shift to combat its growing threat, will likely have a knock-on effect on the mindset of large corporations and their initiatives in combatting climate change.
With more awareness on environmental risks and the impacts, citizens have been pressuring governments to issue more climate friendly policies. This has resulted in an upturn of climate change litigation, with over 1,200 climate change cases filed in more than 30 jurisdictions to date, including 160 cases in 2016 and over 30 in the first few months of 2020 alone. For example, a farmer in Pakistan, challenged the government’s alleged failure to curb air pollution. As a result, the High Court decided that the government must disclose its plans to address the problem in the country. Now, Pakistan has installed air quality monitors. Factories have also been urged to add air cleaning filters to smoke-emitting chimneys. In the UK, plans to expand Heathrow airport was ruled illegal by the court of appeal. They reasoned that ministers failed to take into account the impact of adding a third runway to the airport would have on climate change and that the plans ran counter to their commitments regarding the climate crisis.
This upturn in action is also partly in response to the way the courts are now looking at environmental issues as a legal problem as opposed to a political one.
What policies are law firms and legal actors implementing?
- The Chancery Lane Project is a collaborative effort between a number of UK lawyers to develop new contracts and model laws to help fight climate change. Specifically, its mission is to create contracts and model laws to enable communicates and businesses to fight climate change and achieve net zero carbon emissions for a 1.5-degree world.
- Clyde & Co established a cross-disciplinary team on climate resilience and aims to provide guidance on climate related risks and regulations. Additionally, they set up a “resilience Hub” online to provide reports and articles on providing further guidance on related issues.
- The International Bar Association published a Model Statute for Proceedings Challenging Government failure to act on climate change. It provides detailed rationales, precedents and 23 specific articles for reforms which will enable citizens to ask for judicial review of the sufficiency of their government’s climate measures and where lacking, to assess whether more government measures are warranted under domestic laws.
- Linklaters on the other hand is one of the few firms who have actively participated in the international climate change conferences. They increasingly support clients in finding mechanisms to assess and reduce their carbon footprint. In fact, Linklaters recently advised on the first clean development mechanisms forestry project in Africa.
- Stop Ecocide is a UK-based organisation with the aim of ensuring ecocide is a recognised atrocity crime at the International Criminal Court, alongside genocide and war crimes and war crimes against humanity. Ecocide is defined for this purpose as the mass damage or destruction of natural living systems.
- Further, DLA Piper Canada were the first firm to practice Climate Change Law in Canada. They provide advice on a comprehensive range of services to address business, legal and regulatory needs such as emissions trading, regulatory proceedings and licensing and intellectual property in energy technologies to maintain and help clients navigate the evolving world of climate-change regulation.
These kinds of developments are coming thick and fast to the law and legal profession.
The above examples are just a few. The legal sector has come leaps and bounds in facilitating more environmentally friendly practices over the years, with most firms having either a sector or group dedicated to helping clients mitigate these risks. We must all remember that climate change is no longer a buzz word, it’s a fact of life and it is initiatives like the ones above that will help refuse the environmental footprint and slow down the impacts we are likely to see.