The climate change emergency and a value re-set

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The climate change emergency and a value re-set

Published 14 December 2020

2020 has reminded us of how quickly our world can be turned upside down. COVID-19 has created an opportunity for law firms and individuals to press the “stop and re-set” button. It has given us time at home to take that “before logging on/after logging off” walk to appreciate slowed down daily seasonal changes. By working from home, away from the air-conditioned office bubble, it has also been easier to witness unseasonal weather and to appreciate this has been a year of worrying climate records.

Scientists are clear we are in a climate emergency. The 2019 UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report states that the commitments countries have made are not nearly enough to limit global warming to below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Further, the gap between the actions being taken and the changes required to meet the Paris Agreement targets is widening.

When the transition period ends on 31 December 2020, the UK faces a hole in environmental governance. Whilst the Environmental Bill has now returned to Parliament this has faced criticism as it removes the obligation to publish detailed plans on how targets are to be met and calls are being made for the carbon budgets to be more stringent and pegged to interim targets. In terms of targets, the UK is currently preparing for the submission of the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), to include toughened near term emission targets to improve on those made in the Paris Agreement. 

Climate change brings with it a series of new business risks. On 9 November 2020 the Chancellor announced a move to mandatory Task Force on Climate Related Disclosures (TCFD) aimed at enhancing firms’ approaches to managing climate related financial risks. Climate change is one of the DACB Informed Insurance “Critical Uncertainties” https://insurance.dacbeachcroft.com. Scenario planning is seen as a key tool with the highly disruptive potential impacts from rising global temperatures being uncertain and the challenge to firms to build operational and financial resilience. Please see our recent climate change webinar at https://dacbeachcroft-1.wistia.com/medias/l3b1jb76q2.

Climate change is also driving legal enforcement actions, with administrative, corporate and human rights laws being used by NGOs across the world to challenge government and corporate behaviour - most recently with the Norwegian Supreme Court hearing argument in full in The People v Arctic Oil on the licencing and oil drilling in the Arctic and judgment awaited from the UK Supreme Court in relation to the proposed third runway at Heathrow, the Court of Appeal having found that ministers had failed to take adequate account of the UK’s climate commitments under the Paris Agreement. There is also an increasing global call for “ecocide” to be recognised as an international crime against humanity – in effect a law to protect the earth.

Before lockdown there had already been an increasing recognition by law firms of the value placed on corporate responsibility, with business decisions increasingly driven by environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. DACB is a member of the Legal Sustainability Alliance (LSA) https://legalsustainability.com, which helps firms to count their carbon and commit to reductions. As part of Pro Bono Week 2020, DACB took part in The Big Hack, organised by The [Chancery Lane] Project, https://chancerylaneproject.org/ the collaboration among lawyers from around the world to develop new contracts and model laws to help fight climate change. The project message being “every lawyer can make a difference”.

The UN is clear that we could have just ten years to limit a climate change catastrophe. Greta Thunberg’s unflinching message is “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And I want you to act as you would in a crisis”. 2020 has provided the opportunity for a value re-set by businesses and each of us as individuals and lawyers.

Authors

Gill Burnett

Gill Burnett

Newcastle

+44(0)191 404 4117

Paul Davison

Paul Davison

Newcastle

+44 (0)191 404 4116

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