A “call to arms” to the profession to become involved, as the Society sets up a group on climate change ahead of the now delayed global summit in Scotland

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), delayed by COVID-19, is now being held in Glasgow from 1-12 November 2021, in partnership between the United Kingdom and Italy.

The holding of COP26 is significant. It has been described, scientifically and politically, as a critical moment to focus attention on the climate change agenda, especially as countries’ concentration on the pandemic has inevitably consumed full attention to the detriment of tackling climate change.

COP26 will monitor progress towards the delivery of the commitments made at the Paris Agreement in 2015. These commitments include strengthening the global response to the climate change threat by keeping the global temperature rise below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, with efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5ºC (read more). COP26 unites action by strengthening countries’ ability globally to handle the impact of climate change.

What is the Society doing?

Inspired by the Scottish location for COP26, in August 2020 the Society set up a working group to consider COP26 and climate change. COP26 provides us with opportunities to consider our own responsibilities to climate change and look at how we are affected as individuals both personally and professionally, as a legal profession in representing clients and in policy matters, and the Society as a professional body.

Legal representation on the working group demonstrates the universal nature and importance of climate change, with cross-cutting policy interests spanning planning, property, tax, energy, environment, competition, finance and criminal. The Society’s committee interests fit well into the UK’s key COP26 priorities of: Adaptation & Resilience; Nature; Energy Transition; Clean Road Transport; and Finance.

Some legal interests in climate change issues are obvious. Solicitors advise clients on the implications arising from the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019. That Act sets important net zero emissions targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, providing for advice, plans and reports relating to those targets.

Significantly, it outlines Scotland’s delivery commitment on the Paris Agreement, coming back to the objectives of the COP26 agenda.

Some policy interests may be less clear cut. Public safety and security implications arise, given the size of COP26 and the number of attendees expected. Police Scotland anticipates that many more officers need to be recruited, with consequences for the throughput of normal criminal investigation/court business. Given that the venue at the Scottish Events Campus in Glasgow is to be handed over to the United Nations for the conference’s duration, crimes taking place will fall to be investigated by Police Scotland but prosecuted under international law. With climate change as a highly charged and emotive issue, control of fringe events and protests outside the venue could cause significant disruption to businesses.

Poverty and financial issues arise where funding is being provided to help poorer countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions. The UK has committed to provide £11.6 billion from 2021-25 to help poor countries cut carbon and cope with the impacts of climate breakdown.

What is the working group planning?

The working group is currently developing its work programme. Its principal aim is to raise awareness of and interest in COP26 by building on the profession’s knowledge and understanding of climate change issues. We will publicise relevant events of interest such as the Global Climate Change Week, which takes place from 19-25 October 2020, where academic communities are encouraged to engage with each other and with policymakers on climate change action and solutions.

What can you as a member of the profession do?

COVID-19 has seen a seismic shift in our individual behaviours and social attitudes. The importance of planning for global catastrophes has now been clearly established, with the consequences of delay apparent to all. Not all COVID-19 inspired changes have necessarily been negative, with for example the reduction in air travel and an increase in cycling both widely seen as benefits. With much greater working from our home environments too, attendance at virtual events and meetings to engage in discussions can be easier.

To plan how to deliver on our role in combatting climate change, we welcome hearing from members with views, suggestions and activities to promote discussions on how we as the Scottish legal profession with a focus on COP26 may best become involved in contributing to the climate change debate. Contact Alison McNab or Gillian Mawdsley for more details, or email us at policy@lawscot.org.uk

Lawscot COP26 Conference | Lawyers and climate change: leaders or followers?

Our Lawscot COP26 Conference is fast approaching. Book your place now as we bring together lawyers from across the globe to discuss the role of the lawyer on environmental impact.

Gillian Mawdsley, a policy executive with the Law Society of Scotland
The Author

Gillian Mawdsley, Policy team, Law Society of Scotland

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