The climate crisis is real. While the impending disaster seems like a lifetime away, there is a general consensus that the irreversible and dangerous consequences are already evident. The steady heating of our home is causing devastating environmental consequences that pose extreme challenges for the world’s infrastructure, economies, and political stability. It is deteriorating year by year and will undoubtedly cause significant harm to future generations.
In 2011, the UN Secretary General referred to the current climate as an “unholy brew” and confirmed it is the “defining issue of our time”. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, July 2021 was the hottest month registered in 142 years and human activity has increased the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide by 48%. Our beautiful home has witnessed “20,000 years of change in 170”, according to the National Geographic. Now is the right time to begin making significant moves towards mitigating the devastating effects of the climate crisis, and the legal industry can help.
The International Bar Association (IBA) is widely considered “the global voice of the legal profession” and in May 2020, they issued a Climate Crisis Statement. This inspirational document establishes practices that legal professionals could adopt to help tackle the emergency. It illustrates how professionals can interact with policymaking, educate students on the legal challenges relating to climate change and advise clients about sustainable practice. Jonathan Cocker, a Sustainability Initiatives Officer from the IBA, explained: “It’s a fairly aspirational document that ties lawyers into considering climate change in what they normally do”.
The first step to solving a challenge is to realise there is a challenge in the first instance. The IBA’s statement places great emphasis on recognising the severe impact of the climate crisis on Earth’s population, especially individuals suffering extreme poverty, and how legal professionals can work with clients to work towards a more sustainable future.
The world’s economies, communities, countries, and corporations will suffer disastrous consequences due to the climate emergency and many states will witness unprecedented food insecurity, increased conflict and a significant migration crisis as individuals from the most adversely affected areas of the world will begin to seek refuge. The latter could quickly result in the deterioration of society, law and order and may lead to anarchy. It will not come as a shock that many monetary authorities and central banks have already expressed great apprehension when addressing the issue.
According to Professor Maria Lee, Professor Eloise Scotford and Professor Steven Vaughan, the extensive notion of the rule of law that supports many democratic societies across the world is “under strain”. The unforgiving frequency of extreme floods, fire, prolonged droughts and intense storms will undoubtedly cause great disruption to our valuable home, livelihoods and institutions. Many legal scholars fear that people will turn to “doing whatever it takes” to tackle the crisis, and the limitations the rule of law establishes on power and “openness to multiple voices” may cease to exist and become worthless.
It is clear to see that this topic provokes powerful feelings and unity within the legal industry. Climate Justice in Canada, The Australian Legal Sector Alliance and Lawyers for Net Zero illustrate a small portion of the exciting new initiatives to help catapult climate-friendly practices in their workplace.
There is an expected rise in the number of legal disputes as many of the world’s industries attempt to tackle the climate emergency. There will undoubtedly be a sharp increase in lawyers representing these clients on all sides. The increasing prevalence of extreme weather around the globe may make them less likely to be considered unpredictable and therefore, many insurers will not insure against such events.
According to the Law Society’s report “Climate Change Risks – the future of law as we know it?”, the risk of governments, directors and corporations being subjected to lawsuits is phenomenal. Litigation may arise from misrepresentation or failing to action their promised change towards a more sustainable future. In 2019, the Dutch government was ordered to ensure deeper cuts to emissions before 2021 by the Supreme Court. Along with the obligations established by the Paris Agreement to control the rise in global temperatures, the court referred closely to the European Convention on Human Rights which illustrates the need to protect the rights of every individual against large corporations who contribute to the warming of our planet.
Legal professionals can adopt many different practices to help contribute towards mitigating the extremely detrimental impact of our current ways. Some individuals and firms may support small changes to their daily schedules, such as using less paper and making good use of technology, and others may start including more ‘green clauses’ within legal documents.
Across England and Wales, many commercial leases include ‘green clauses’. They provide the parties to a lease with specific obligations and duties to limit their carbon footprint by sustainably developing, operating and occupying properties. Firms may begin by acquiring Energy Performance Certificates, limiting the amount of waste produced, maintaining healthy recycling habits, and complying with statutory environmental standards. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors have stated the following:-
Parties are encouraged to include in leases provisions relating to sustainability and the environment that urge cooperation throughout the lease term between the landlord and the tenant to ensure that the property is used as sustainably as possible.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a popular talking point in current times. The rapid expansion of technology into the legal industry, as well as other industries, will significantly alter professional practice and the legal landscape. Some people may look to AI to find answers to this pressing issue and discover how we can protect future generations.
In 2022, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) emphasised the requirement for “adaptation and resilience” when attempting to mitigate the harmful effects we will suffer in years to come. Such approaches would include long-term planning and efficient responses to an increase in natural disasters and unpredictable weather. We learn and adapt from experience and we will need to conduct accurate research, educate individuals about the effects and how to minimise them, and redistribute finances. With its ability to research, collate and interpret extremely complex information on carbon emissions at an unprecedented pace, AI could be the saviour by allowing us to adopt more environmentally-friendly and better informed procedures.
In 2022, the BCG coordinated a survey of 1,005 professionals who work with AI and climate change initiatives. Astonshingly, 87% of those who responded agreed that AI and “advanced analytics” is monumental in minimising the increasing global temperatures. Over half of respondents expressed their desire for governments to increase the utilisation of AI in tackling the emergency.
In contrast, the MIT Technology Review published its findings against the use of AI in 2020. They discovered the training and development of “regular AI” using the lowest programming procedures produces equal amounts of greenhouse gases “as a flight across the United States”. This is only amplified by the more advanced versions of AI. A sophisticated AI machine produces “five times more CO2 into the atmosphere than the entire life cycle of an American car, including its manufacturing”. This is extremely concerning and illustrates our duty to make AI more sustainable if it is going to assist us in our fight against climate change.
The increasing danger of the climate crisis is truly frightening. It is evident that we need to adopt environmentally-friendly procedures and habits within our workplaces and our daily lives. If we wish to protect future generations from living in a world full of devastation, destruction, food shortages, extreme weather events and a migration crisis, we need to pull through and work in unity. Despite legal professionals and regulatory bodies implementing sustainable practices, such as including “green clauses”, one would question whether more action is required and whether they will significantly mitigate the danger.
On the face of it, AI seems to be an efficient tool to tackle climate change through education and analysing large data sets to lower our carbon emissions. However, training AI produces a phenomenal amount of carbon emissions and it is apparent that we need to act on this to decrease our carbon footprint.
One thing is for certain, this is an issue that will not disappear on its own. We need to come together before it is too late.