Climate Change & Sustainability: The Next Steps for the Legal Profession

Over the last two weeks, we’ve been highlighting climate change and sustainability issues and their relevance to the legal sector, to coincide with the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26 which enters its final days in the UK.

In our view, for the contemporary commercial lawyer, climate and sustainability issues will have to become part of their own ethical framework. In order for this to happen, it will be necessary to change the relevant parts of the educational curricula for studying law at undergraduate, postgraduate and professional levels. All types of commercial law subjects should include at least 1-2 teaching sessions on climate and sustainability issues. Further, there is much scope for speciality subjects in the area, in particular, if we consider the planned rise in investment in staff expertise in the area by the aforementioned major firms.

The future of our world is in a precarious and risky state, given the continued rise in carbon dioxide emissions. All commercial activity worldwide has to be shaped to provide economies with pathways of how to achieve a transition to a low-carbon economy. A lawyer’s obligation is to ensure that this transition will be a just transition to a low-carbon economy. And we can see that this just transition issue is a centrepiece of new climate legislation in Ireland - Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021.

The legal community cannot be behind the curve on issues of climate and sustainability. Legal educators around the country and indeed the island need to embrace the change and ensure that lawyers begin to lead on these issues, and they will only do so if provided more opportunity to gain that knowledge. The future health of Ireland as a sustainable country and island, an economy and a socially just society depends on upon such an overhaul of legal education. Climate change and sustainability are issues not going away and will continue throughout our lifetimes. The next generation of Irish and Northern Irish lawyers need to have climate change and sustainability as part of their in-built ethical education as a lawyer.


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