Climate Change & Sustainability: Why legal education in IRL needs an overhaul

As the UN Climate Conference, COP26, gets underway in the UK over the next two weeks to hammer out a deal on how the world is to bring its emissions down, we wanted to spotlight legal education in Ireland and the need for it to be updated in light of climate change and sustainability. 

The UN has warned that the world is "way off track" in its bid to cut emissions causing global warming. But so, too, is legal education in Ireland if it’s to make any meaningful impact on the most pressing issue affecting life on earth. Ultimately, it needs an overhaul.

To make its contribution, all lawyers should be educated on the pressing concern of climate change and sustainability. Business practices need to think of how to become more sustainable, and therefore law and contracts need to be updated and encourage more sustainability. At the very least, there should be some clauses within a contract that detail what sustainability is and how it is relevant and applied to that particular business activity, and how business activity responds to climate change.

Today, all lawyers have to pass examinations in a variety of subject areas around commercial law such as Law of Contract, Company Law, Jurisprudence, European Union Law, Equity and the Law of Tort. However, the problem is that there is a deficiency of teaching within these subject areas around climate change and sustainability.

More books, study learning materials, and lecture time are needed to cover climate change and sustainability issues to give students a contemporary legal education today. Different professions in the business world are already changing and making key investment decisions to support that change. For example, PwC announced in July that they are funding a $12 billion investment drive in staff in the area of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. In addition, another major international firm Goldman Sachs has announced a $750 billion programme in sustainable financing, investing and advisory activity by 2030. Major firms recognise the need for staff expertise in this area and that it is growing fast. These companies are another avenue for legally educated and qualified students to secure employment. While we note with great enthusiasm the planned for Environmental Justice, Democracy and Human Rights event run by the Law Society of Ireland later this month along with the recent Massive Online Course (MOOC) on Shaping a Greener Future there remains much to do.

Stay tuned, as we explore this issue further over the next two weeks.

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