COP27: what are the implications for the legal industry?

COP27: what are the implications for the legal industry?

As the world’s leaders gather in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt for the 27th United Nations climate change conference – COP27 for short, their to-do list is long.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and there is a growing sense of urgency that we must all improve our efforts and work more collaboratively if we are to bring about the change that is needed, in time.

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres put it bluntly, when he said,

“It is the defining issue of our age. It is the central challenge of our century. It is unacceptable, outrageous and self-defeating to put it on the back burner”.

Of course, some progress has been made in those 30 years, for example the science behind climate change is now better understood than it was.

Greater governance

Governments, including our own, are now legislating to ensure that businesses do their bit, for example in working towards net zero operations. This is only likely to increase in terms of the volume, reach and requirements of such legislation and regulation.

Social pressure

Organisations are often forced to change because it is demanded of them by their stakeholders and there is no doubt that tomorrow’s consumers will be far more aware of the environment and sustainability concerns.

Our children are growing up with an awareness of the issues that we maybe did not have. In a recent Save the Children survey of 3,000 children, 70% reported they are worried about the world they will inherit – it was described as “climate anxiety.”

What does this mean for lawyers?

As we are seeing by the publicity generated by the UN climate conference each year, Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) issues are going to be on everyone’s radars a lot more, this is not going away!

From boardrooms to factory floors, everyone will be affected, across every sector and size and type of undertaking, this is a growth area like no other. There is a great opportunity for advisory work waiting to be seized as potential clients across all sections of society seek help in understanding their new obligations.

It’s no longer just the “environment lawyers” working in their silo who will need to get to grips with environmental laws and regulations. The formulation of new contract terms, new human rights and new causes of action will impact all lawyers.

Be aware

To capitalise on these new opportunities, lawyers need to make themselves aware and keep a watching brief on ESG developments – their clients will be demanding it, even if they don’t know it yet, time is of the essence.

Catherine Oh, ESG Lead

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