COP26: Prioritising environmental considerations

COP26: Prioritising environmental considerations alongside profit generation – How will lawyers assist?

BTO Solicitors LLP

Glasgow is hosting the 26th ‘Conference of the Parties’ from 31 October until 12 November this year, following last year’s cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 190 World leaders are travelling to Glasgow to participate in discussions with a view to reaching agreement on plans to achieve a global Net Zero economy. In addition to its commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, having recently been recognised as a ‘global green city’ by the Global Forum on Human Settlements, Glasgow is a fitting host for this year’s Summit.

Significance of COP26

At the time of the COP’s creation in 1995, climate change was not generally recognised as a global priority. Further, since its creation, these summits have received criticism for failing to generate meaningful action from world leaders to tackle global warming. However, following recent scientific reports on the irreversible effects of climate change and the already devastating effects of extreme weather, species extinction, air pollution and wildfires, COP26 is said to present an ‘opportunity to move from commitments to real urgent action’.

In 2015, taking place in Paris, COP21 established the Paris Agreement which required countries to set out plans for reducing their emissions (Nationally Determined Contributions). This was significant as almost every country agreed to enter into a legally binding commitment to reduce emissions. One of the primary goals of COP26 is to ensure countries formalise and adopt plans to implement the commitments made throughout the Paris Agreement to ensure effective action is taken to address the climate crisis.

In November last year, the UK Government released its ‘Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution’. This report set out the Government’s plans for investment and policies relating to offshore wind, low carbon hydrogen, zero emission vehicles and green public transport, with the aim of repairing the economy and creating ‘green jobs’.

The legal sector

The UK Government recognises that a shift in the global economy will be required to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, meaning businesses across all sectors will need to consider long term plans for adapting their businesses to functioning within a greener economy. It will, therefore, be important for legal services to account for the increasing need for businesses to prioritise environmental considerations alongside generating profit for shareholders. Clients may also require advice in relation to new national government policies which are adopted following COP26.

The legal sector is also considering the ways in which its daily practices can contribute to the goal of reaching net zero emissions. The Chancery Lane Project encourages solicitors to participate in ‘environmentally conscious drafting’ by providing access to style ‘climate clauses’ to be included in contracts across various different practice areas. These include, ‘Climate Change Aligned Board Minutes and Heads of Terms’, ‘Green Investment Obligations’ and ‘Carbon Performance Obligations’. Such clauses may also be useful for clients seeking to improve their reputation in terms of their commitment to sustainable and environmentally friendly business practices.

There is an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation in Glasgow as we begin this historic event, as many describe it as our last chance to limit global warming. Protestors from the Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace are expected to take to the streets of Glasgow with the aim of putting pressure on world leaders to effect real change going forward. There will also be various workshops and presentations available to the public, giving the people of Glasgow a chance to participate in this globally anticipated event.

Jeremy Glen, Partner: / 0141 221 8012 Emily Couchlin, Trainee Solicitor: / 0141 221 8012