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THE INESCAPABLE CONNECTION BETWEEN CLIMATE CHANGE AND ARMED CONFLICT AND THE IHL’S POSITION ON THE SUBJECT
Increased danger of armed conflict is anticipated as global temperatures rise. Extreme weather and related calamities brought on by climate change have the potential to hurt economies, reduce agricultural and animal output, and exacerbate social inequalities. These elements may raise the likelihood of violence when paired with other conflict-causing elements.
Climatic challenges leading to conflict
Due to climate extremes, millions worldwide have been let down by their countries and have made the painful choice to emigrate in pursuit of better circumstances. Finding resources has been considerably more difficult. As immigrants compete with natives for land and water, tensions rise. Conflicts over natural resources have the potential to be fatal and disastrous. But because they frequently only cover a tiny portion of a nation, they are also relatively small. An issue that starts as a localised battle for resources in one region can quickly spread across the country, escalating the violence in the process.
International humanitarian law and climate change
There is convincing evidence of the links between climate change and instability, and armed conflict, which have been the subject of several reports that have undergone extensive investigation.
However, there is disagreement among States regarding the cause-and-effect relationship between climate change and the onset of armed conflicts, and there are concerns, in particular, about the foundation and supporting evidence for those relationships, the appropriateness of applying IHL rules, and their likely efficacy in addressing the root causes of armed conflict.
IHL and the ethics and standards of humanitarian behaviour have evolved over a considerably longer period. In the past fifty years or more, the concepts of international environmental law, which are more recent in their creation, have expanded very quickly, especially as public awareness of the widespread environmental deterioration has increased.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as well as other international instruments such as the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit Declaration of 1992, are examples of “soft law” norms and principles that are heavily reliant on prevention strategies rather than rigid rules of customary or treaty law. These norms and principles are frequently expressed in aspirational language and lack provisions for effective monitoring and compliance instead of rigid treaty or customary law rules, essential to understanding and implementing IHL standards.
The IHL’s general duties and protections
Important general IHL norms would apply for protecting civilians in a war involving State or government forces due to climate change, just as the same basic rules would apply to protecting civilians in armed conflict unrelated to climate change.
Article 48 of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (AP I) instructs the parties to a conflict to distinguish between civilians and combatants and between civilian objects and military targets. Articles 57 and 58 are of particular significance as they dictate that the parties to a conflict must take precautions against harming civilians and their property. There are likely to be gaps and limitations in IHL protection notwithstanding these broad guidelines, which are likely to apply in certain factual instances.
The IHL and environmental protection
Two provisions of AP I, which deal with international armed conflicts (IACs), specifically mention protecting the environment. Article 35(3) declares the following essential principle to be an outright prohibition:
- It is prohibited to employ methods or means of warfare which are intended or may be expected to cause widespread, long-term, and severe damage to the natural environment.
The following are the phrases used by Article 55 to describe its approach from the perspective of the population’s survival or health:
- Care shall be taken in warfare to protect the natural environment against widespread, long-term, and severe damage. The protection includes prohibiting the use of methods or means of warfare which are intended or may be expected to cause such damage to the natural environment and thereby prejudice the health or survival of the population.
- Attacks against the natural environment by way of reprisals are prohibited.
The prohibition against “widespread, long-term and severe” harm unites the two Articles.
While taking note of the clauses above, it is necessary to point out that there are also gaps in the IHL’s connections to climate change and environmental preservation. Several multinational environmental treaties, such as the Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC, and the Vienna Convention on the Ozone Layer, do not directly address the issue of their application during conflict.
As a result, there are crucial causal links between armed conflict and climate change. However, this suggests a solid legal foundation for applying IHL standards in the future with more clarity and accuracy.
Impact on the legal sector
Law firms should investigate climate change and violent conflicts since they have substantial legal ramifications affecting many areas of business and society. Law firms may give significant counsel to clients on how to navigate the complicated legal landscape and manage risks connected with these concerns by knowing the legal frameworks around these challenges.
Law firms with environmental and international humanitarian law expertise would be especially well-suited to resolve the complex legal concerns arising from the convergence of climate change and armed conflicts. These firms might collaborate with governments, non-governmental organisations, and other stakeholders to create legislative frameworks and policies that promote sustainable development while protecting vulnerable communities from the consequences of armed conflicts and climate change.
Briefing by Noor ul ain Tahir
TENTATIVELY SAFE FROM ADMINISTRATION: THE INCE GROUP
Ince Group plc is an international commercial and corporate legal firm with a 150-year history following its inception in 1866 and its first establishment in London in 1870. Its primary specialisations include aviation, energy, maritime and insurance.
The firm was acquired in 2018 by Gordon Dadds, with Adrian Biles as the latter’s then-chief executive, following unsuccessful attempts at sourcing mergers to overturn revenue decline over three consecutive years between 2013 and 2017. Although the group made some headway in growth and profitability after the acquisition, on 13th April 2023, it announced its collapse following several mismanagement issues.
Quantuma Advisory Limited was appointed as a joint administrator to dispose of the firm to a third party as quickly as possible.
Issues leading to collapse
The issues are said to have genuinely commenced in 2021, when the firm’s net debt was registered at over £6.5 million, with profits declared at just over £300,000, a pittance considering the firm was once considered London’s largest, with revenue and profits to match.
On 23rd May 2022, the firm announced it fell victim to a ransomware attack on 13th March 2022 during IT migrations in Asia. The attack targeted the sensitive personal data of staff members and the firm’s internal systems, with threats of publication on the dark web should a ransom not be paid.
Although a High Court injunction was granted on 1st April 2022 ‘to block the use, publication or disclosure of any data taken from the firm’s systems by the attacker’, with the firm adding that measures were put in place to counter the attack and restore its security to mostly pre-attack levels, the damage was already done; the firm issued a profit warning as shares fell by 15% to 20p, subsequently reducing revenue by 3%, from £100.2 million to £97 million.
There was the sale of its wholly owned subsidiary, Arden Partners, on 16th November 2022, purchased in April 2022 for £10 million. The intention was to complete the acquisition by late 2021; it was however completed in April owing to a protracted auditing process, thus brewing uncertainty and increasing administration costs.
Arden’s disposal was primarily attributed to a gruelling fundraising market; Ince Group could not meet the financial demands required for raising the capital needed for investing in Arden Partners with the view to circumventing adverse economic conditions. Arden Partners was sold at a loss of £9 million to Zeus, a financial services group. The cruxes mentioned above led to delayed profit distribution payments to partners and, hence, some early resignations.
There were also very public legal conflicts with the father and son team, John and Adrian Biles. John Biles, the firm’s then head of finance, was forced to resign in May 2022, proceeding mistreatment allegations of a female server, although the primary instigator was not Mr Biles himself but a member of his dining party.
Adrian Biles resigned as the firm’s chief executive in August 2022. He was to retain the directorship of the Ince Group until a settlement package was finalised. Even so, on 12th September 2022, he was expediently removed from his directorship, with the firm alleging that circumstances arising from conflicts of interests were discovered apparent, an infringement of directors’ duties under s. 177 of Companies Act 2006.
Both subsequently alleged a loss of office, expenses and rent totalling £670,000 against the Ince Group, and it was counter-alleged that debts totalling £690,000 were owed by the Biles’ companies to the firm. A settlement was reached whereby both parties waived the majority of their respective claims, with the firm agreeing to pay each of the Biles £15,000 for loss of office, evincing additional financial woes of a firm struggling to stay afloat.
Discernible lessons for the legal sector
From the onset and as an outsider, one could ponder the reasons for the firm’s ill-advised management and undertakings, especially given its longstanding, thus experienced status in the sector. For instance, one could legitimately question the acquisition of subsidiaries, despite the firm’s awareness of its financial standing and the likelihood that the capital required to sustain such assets may be lacking, a reasoning further substantiated by the volatility of pro-pandemic recovery.
Previously, the firm had stated that the Russia-Ukraine conflict significantly affected global shipping, one of the firm’s key markets, factors consequently germane to reduced profitability and growth; therefore, why seek expansion when the sustainability of core operations and the retention of staff should be the most paramount objectives? Regrettably, cyberattacks are unpredictable. Nonetheless, the destabilising irony is that a firm specialising in advising on cybersecurity fell victim to it.
In summarising all the above, it was inevitable that confidence in the firm amongst current and potential investors and shareholders would waver, as evident in the pull-out of a significant creditor, leading to its collapse. Perhaps mercifully, the firm was saved from administration by Axiom DWFM, a full-service legal outfit, who acquired the firm ‘as a separate operating entity…managed independently as a separately branded legal services business’.
The near collapse of such a leviathan affirms to other law firms that their positions in respective markets are precarious; an attention lapse, a reckless or mismanaged step, could lead to catastrophic consequences.
Some would venture that a firm’s ongoing success depends on luck; however, given the sector’s inconstant nature and the increasing complexities faced in remaining relevant and competitive within it, luck should not be a factor relied upon irrespective of a firm’s size or standing in ensuring survival during capricious economic times; ongoing and daily management of a firm’s operations is vital, accepting limitations irrespective of their longevity, is sometimes crucial, and a firm engaging its ‘self-awareness’ is detrimental.
Entirely how, if at all, the Ince Group is restored to its former glory remains an enigma. That being said, given the standing of Axiom DWFM, the firm looks set to, at least, survive the consequences of its previous mismanagement and could, for now, along with the rest of the legal sector, breathe a collative sigh of relief.