COP26 will bring changes for legal professionals, as individuals and advisers, and the Society’s Working Group on COP26 and Climate Change will evolve to continue raising awareness of the implications

We are all in this climate crisis together. That provided my original motivation when invited to chair the Society’s Working Group on COP26 and Climate Change. Created in July 2020, it was the height of the pandemic. Our primary focus was then COP26, delayed subsequently to November 2021. We saw that COP26 provided us with opportunities and responsibilities to explore, being hosted in Scotland, the Society’s own jurisdiction.

Our membership, then quite narrow, reflected mainly environmental and energy policy interests. Those involved the lawyers already directly working for clients considering the impact of climate change.

Principally, we, the working group sought to inform and raise awareness of the meaning of the climate crisis for the Society and its members. We emphasised the significance of the landmark Paris Agreement (2015), vital in the multilateral climate change process. It is a binding agreement bringing nations together in an ambitious effort to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. In short, it sought to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably to 1.5.

We highlighted the importance of the global progress towards meeting these targets. We emphasised that commitment to achieving the targets is the focus of COP26.

Our own work included a survey (December 2020) to measure our members’ awareness of the COP26 conference. Round table events have been held focusing on the human rights impact of the climate crisis on different groups. We have covered climate change law, biodiversity, and flagged up the ecocide debate about its recognition as an international crime. Online conferences have illustrated the practical policing implications of holding COP26.

Our work to date has inspired the Society’s own direct action in appraising its sustainability and carbon footprint.

It has also uncovered a vast, multi-faceted range of climate crisis-related topics, snowballing in ways unforeseen, and unimagined by us at the outset. As momentum towards COP26 has increased, we too have been surprised.

On reflection though, perhaps not, as that inclusion, interest and responsibility are exactly what I suggest it means for us as lawyers today and as climate conscious lawyers of the future.

COP26 is now less than a month away. It provides us with a once in a lifetime opportunity, as the decisions taken will be critical for us all. Our own work here and as professionals cannot and must not end in November when the COP26 attendees pack their bags to return home. Flexibility in all our approaches going forward is imperative in considering how best to take actions affecting our sustainability and our future.

For us, the working group, we are considering how it metamorphoses, developing options on how best to consolidate its legacy for all our benefit and to support essential changes required by the climate crisis.

More widely, lawyers will require to use their professional skills to aid those impacted through adverse climate change. Seeking out transition and decarbonisation will touch many practice areas. But that only scratches the surface. In representing and utilising our professional interests, enthusiasm, energy and commitment to the climate crisis, we have sought to provide an impetus for the Society and the Scottish legal profession.

COP26 is not the end but the beginning of us all as climate lawyers.

Across the Society, we will disseminate the significance of the detailed policy and professional implications arising from the COP26 commitments made by the UK Government. That will allow us all to take account of these and to identify actions to address the climate crisis, in our own way. We can spread information to and for all levels of the Society as a unique institution and for its influence in relation to current and future generations of law students and staff.

We, as a Society, should not feel constrained by the outcome of COP26. Mitigating the impact of, and adapting to life in, a changing climate is a challenge for which we must all take responsibility.

Climate change action is for now, for all and not just for those involved in environmental matters. There is continued scope for lawyers to take a creative and innovative approach to this unique opportunity to share information and implement change in many diverse forms. And your views to us in looking to that legacy are important.

In conclusion, I hope that at the end of COP26 people will be able to say: “I was encouraged and inspired for the climate change future, when I called you last night from Glasgow.”    

The Author

Emma Dixon is a senior in-house lawyer, and convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s COP26 & Climate Change Working Group

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