Don’t prioritise profits over the planet, 150 leading lawyers warn in open letter
Top City law firms should be “ethically obliged” to advise clients of the dangers of pursuing deals that could be contributing to the climate crisis, a group of leading lawyers have said.
In an open letter signed by some 150 legal experts, the group says it “unconscionable” for corporate firm to “pursue a course of conduct for short-term profit knowing that it exposes the public to intolerable risks of disaster”.
The letter cites a student-led report that found that the world’s 100 leading law firms helped facilitate $1.36 trillion in fossil fuel transactions in 2021, a $50 billion uplift on the previous year. The report also handed each firm a ‘climate score’ between A and F (where F represents the most damaging climate practices), with four out of the five Magic Circle outfits receiving the lowest grade.
“Lawyer must use their influence for good”, the letter states, “supporting their clients in making the urgent transformation to business practices that is required to avert disaster”.
The group — made up of KCs, solicitors, academics and legal experts — suggests a three pronged approach to creating a more eco-friendly profession.
Firstly, lawyers must have an understanding of the “extreme risks” of breaching the 1.5 ̊C limit set by international governments and “urgent action” required by 2030 to prevent such breach, so that they can advise their clients accordingly.
Secondly, lawyers should be “ethically obliged” to advise their clients, where relevant and appropriate, of the serious risks (legal or otherwise) of pursuing any investment, project or transaction that is inconsistent with this limit”. This, the group says, includes government lawyers who “highlight the potential human rights violations not only of measures inconsistent with 1.5 ̊C but also measures which disproportionately criminalise protestors who raise the alarm”.
Thirdly, lawyers “should support efforts by the judiciary to develop climate literacy, and in appropriate cases, ensure courts have access to relevant evidence concerning the climate emergency and have due regard to the compatibility of any investment, project or transaction with the 1.5 ̊C threshold”.
The letter goes on to accept that while these propositions will be challenging to some, they are “modest” in the “context of the extreme emergency we face” and that breaching the 1.5 ̊C agreement “threatens disorder and the end of the rule of law”.