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Commercial Question

Climate change and the legal profession

updated on 16 November 2021

Question

How can lawyers help to address climate change through their work?

Answer

What can lawyers do to support change?

As the world gears up for rapid decarbonisation, governments, businesses, and citizens will need to adapt their behaviour. To do so, they need a common framework of individual and shared responsibilities – who invests in green technology, who pays for the investments and who regulates these changes of behaviour? Lawyers will be crucial in enacting and enforcing the legal framework for the green transition.

In a recent report, Nigel Brook (partner) and Zaneta Sedilekova (associate) assessed the future of the legal profession in dealing with risks from climate change, as increasingly extreme weather creates repercussions for clients and law firms alike. From direct economic costs to the indirect impact on clients’ operations and liabilities, lawyers will need to assist clients in identifying and managing growing physical and legal risks. For example, as greater restrictions are placed by governments on various kinds of carbon-intensive operations, lawyers must conduct due diligence and advise on additional liabilities embedded in certain investments.

Yet, because climate change is a global phenomenon lawyers will also have to contend with a greater number of cross-border and multi-jurisdictional disputes. Indeed today, climate litigation can happen anywhere, allowing claimants to forum shop for the country whose laws are best suited to their case. While such forum shopping is not unique to climate litigation, lawyers will have to be aware of its increasing use in this field.

Clyde and Co’s resilient practice

Clyde & Co has, over the years, built a cross-disciplinary and cross-jurisdictional team with in-depth knowledge of climate change risks to help clients assess and deal with the particular risks they face and successfully manage the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The firm focuses on helping organisations to understand and mitigate climate risks across the various sectors that the firm operates in, such as construction, aviation, energy, insurance, and trade. The firm has advised on exposure to liability under a changing regulatory landscape, on insurance coverage issues in light of climate-related exposure as well as across the renewable energy market. It has provided support for compliance with environmental regulation and disclosure requirements, developed due diligence frameworks, and reviewed policies and procedures, for assessing climate change risks to workforce.

Recently, the firm published its Climate change risk and liability report 2021 focusing on the importance of good governance in putting climate risk awareness at the heart of decision-making for organisations. The firm also contributed to a major new report from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) on Risk sharing in the Climate Emergency: Financial regulation for a resilient, net-zero, just transition calling for the increase use of targeted insurance mechanisms to better quantify and manage risk. The report included key recommendations to put the insurance sector right at the heart of the solution.

Trainee-led Climate Change Group

The Clyde & Co trainee-led Climate Change Group was founded in March 2020 by trainees at the firm with a particular interest in climate-related legal issues. The group was established to provide opportunities for junior lawyers at the firm to gain first-hand experience of climate-related pro bono and business development work. This enables trainees to develop a range of skills, and to make a positive impact on the work of climate-related charities and projects by providing high-quality legal advice on a variety of issues while still maintaining the support and supervision of partners and associates within the firm.

The group has grown rapidly over the past 18 months and now provides advice and support to various organisations on a diverse range of topics such as rewilding, biodiversity and COP26. The group also worked in partnership with The Chancery Lane Project by assisting with the drafting of climate-conscious contractual clauses in various sectors such as arbitration, insurance, construction, employment, energy and by publishing a series of short updates summarising the precedent clauses drafted in the course of the collaborative hackathons. 

Trainees in the group also help fee earners at all levels of the firm to develop their expertise in climate-related issues by organising regular learning and development events and producing comprehensive monthly updates on climate change affairs. This helps to ensure that fee earners stay up to date on the latest legal and commercial developments in the climate sphere, and develop Clyde & Co's position as a global leader on climate-related legal issues. 

Iris Kyriazi (she/her) is a trainee solicitor at Clyde & Co LLP.