Do lawyers have a heightened responsibility to help avert a climate catastrophe? Vandana Chatlani reports

In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body for assessing the science related to climate change, published a damning report on the climate crisis and warned of dangerous levels of global warming unless “deep reductions in CO2 and other green-house gas emissions occur in the coming decades”.

UN Secretary General António Guterres called the report “a code red for humanity” and offered a bleak summary: “The evidence is irrefutable. Greenhouse gas emissions are choking our planet and placing billions of people in danger … We must act decisively now to avert a climate catastrophe.”

The IPCC report confirms what we have known for years – we are destroying our planet. Nature is sounding its alarm with raging fires, floods, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, scorching temperatures and lethal pollution.

“We are reaching our planet boundaries in terms of destruction of biodiversity, CO2 emissions, deforestation and much more,” says Philippe Joubert, the founder and CEO of Earth on Board, an ecosystem of organisations dedicated to educating company boards on sustainability and good governance.

Many argue that lawyers also have a vital role to play in protecting our planet and that failure to do so will have dire consequences.

“A lot of hate was initially directed at the oil and gas companies,” says one Singapore-based law firm partner who wished to remain anonymous. “Then it started to shift to companies such as Nestlé and Mars, which were purchasing unsustainable palm oil leading to deforestation.

“Criticism was then levelled at banks and other institutions financing oil and gas, palm oil and coal projects. Even accounting and insurance firms have been targeted for facilitating destructive activities for social expansion. So it is only logical that law firms would get hit at some point.”

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