Ahead of the Glasgow climate change summit in November this year, the Society’s survey of members’ attitudes to the subject is helping with plans to develop their interest

2021 is a year not short of challenges for us all. Against the backdrop of COVID-19, which continues to have a significant and immediate impact, planning is going forward towards November 2021 when the 26th UN Conference on Climate Change (COP26) is to be held in Glasgow.

This event in Scotland presents an opportunity to increase awareness of the effects of climate change and to stress its global importance. Looking to the future, climate change will continue to have a long term impact while the pandemic is now the immediate concern. We would like to highlight what is happening now in the lead up to COP26 and to explore the opportunities offered to us as the legal profession in Scotland.

The UK Government held the Climate Ambition Summit in December 2020 to raise awareness of COP26. This coincided with the fifth anniversary of the ratification of the Paris Agreement, which committed to limiting global warming to well below 2º Celsius, and preferably to 1.5º Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. The event, described as “a major milestone” on the road to COP26, sought to promote the key COP26 challenges of adaptation and resilience, clean energy and clean transport, finance and nature based solutions. How we as the legal profession can feed into these themes underpins our work going forward. 

Looking towards COP26, the Society has set up a crosscutting policy working group to look at the opportunities presented by the conference in Scotland, and the issue of climate change for the legal profession more generally. The working group’s first key task was to develop and undertake a survey of the profession. This has now concluded and the results have been published.

The working group considered that a brief survey of the profession was appropriate at this stage to obtain valuable information and to ascertain how best to increase awareness of the conference and develop plans to explore the opportunities for engagement that COP26 offers.

What did the report say?

The responses to the survey were varied, which is hardly surprising since the issue of climate change affects us all but is interpreted in different ways. A 57% majority of those responding to the survey indicated that climate change was either somewhat or very important to them in a professional capacity, which is encouraging at the current time.

We recognise that a number of solicitors are already directly involved in advising clients on climate change law and their responsibilities, on the development of sustainable business practices and in green investment. Other solicitors have a personal interest in environmental concerns and/or may be introducing sustainable practices for their own business.

Other matters arising from the survey included the immediate implications of holding a large-scale conference such as COP26. There will be inevitable local practical impacts and traffic disruption in Glasgow, due to the sheer size of the event. It will impact on resourcing involving Police Scotland, with their responsibilities for maintaining public order and safety, and thereafter on the courts and the justice system.

The survey highlighted that COVID-19 has influenced views of climate change to some extent, with 49% responding that, in their professional opinion, climate change was somewhat or much more important than the pandemic, and 29% saying it was of equal importance.

The information from the survey allows us to consider opportunities to influence our membership and beyond, and develop relevant training and other opportunities for support and engagement for members in 2021.

What are the plans?

With support from the profession around these topics, we are engaging with our members and stakeholders to help to build networks and draw on our combined professional experience and support. We are planning to offer opportunities to build our members’ current level of interest and awareness of climate change and associated issues.

So, we echo the message from the Climate Ambition Summit that the scale of the challenge facing the world is huge. We are keen to be part of Glasgow’s success and show what climate change means to the profession, given its importance and gravity.

The Author

Gillian Mawdsley and Alison McNab are policy executives with the Law Society of Scotland

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