Lawyers should take a “climate-conscious approach” to legal practice and advise clients of the risks of worsening the climate crisis, the International Bar Association (IBA) has declared
The body has approved a ‘climate crisis statement’ that recognised the “important role” lawyers have in addressing the crisis and its consequences, “including by supporting their clients’ efforts to do so”.
It acknowledged too that a global response to the climate emergency will give rise to increased disputes, with lawyers representing the legal interests and rights of all sides.
“The legal profession must be prepared to play a leading role in maintaining and strengthening the rule of law and supporting responsible, enlightened governance in an era marked by a climate crisis.”
In terms of practice, the IBA urged lawyers to consider “taking a climate-conscious approach to problems encountered in daily legal practice”, as well as advising clients of the potential risks, liability, and reputational damage arising from “activity that negatively contributes to the climate crisis”.
They should also encourage corporate clients to voluntarily disclose the risks posed by the climate crisis to the corporation’s entire business operation (including supply chains) when reporting to regulators, investors, and stakeholders.
The resolution also pushed lawyers to engage in “climate dispute resolution” on a pro-bono, volunteer or reduced fee basis, “for those negatively affected by the climate crisis”.
The IBA went on to support lawyers engaging with policymaking efforts to address the climate crisis and recommended that bar associations, law societies and similar bodies around the world “each consider engaging with law students and schools concerning education on legal elements of the climate crisis and its impact on human rights”, as well as setting up committees on the climate crisis and its consequences.
As “influential figures and thought leaders within society”, lawyers should seek to reduce their environmental footprints and support “positive changes in the workplace, including adoption of more sustainable practices, such as greater reliance on electronic file storage facilities and digital technologies, more energy efficient office infrastructure and more climate-friendly travel and procurement choices”.
The Chancery Lane Project, a pro bono initiative aiming to rewrite contracts and laws to reach net zero emissions, welcomed the statement.
Former Supreme Court justice Lord Carnwath, a leading supporter of the project, said: “It is uplifting to see that the global voice of the legal profession has made a public statement acknowledging the severity and urgency of the climate crisis and urging lawyers to take a ‘climate conscious approach’ to their practice.
“I commend lawyers to engage with pro bono initiatives such as The Chancery Lane Project, which provide an opportunity to collaborate across the profession and influence at the scale required to address the climate crisis.”
Ellie Mulholland, a member of the project’s steering group, added: “I think there are a lot of commercial lawyers who will see the IBA Climate Crisis Statement and want to do something, but not know where to start.
“I hope it encourages a new wave of legal professionals to get involved in practical initiatives such as The Chancery Lane Project and then embed that climate common sense in their day-to-day advice.”
The first editions of the project’s climate contract playbook and green paper of model laws to tackle climate were launched in February and have had over 8,000 unique downloads.