As we melt into the beginning of August, we are starting to feel the effects of climate change. Rising temperatures bring threat to environmental health which is a human rights-based issue. 2022 has already witnessed new records on several environmental fronts globally, for example, the highest rainfall, peak temperatures, earlier melting glaciers, longest droughts, biggest livestock and fisheries loss, crop degradation, deepest coastline loss and much more.
Change may be on the horizon but only if we galvanise into action. Thankfully, countries are setting new climate policies, enacting legislation and companies are moving to be ‘green’ and/or sustainable. On July 28, member states of the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to adopt a historic resolution that would recognise a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right. This recognition will help too. Accountability, advocacy and advice on climate-related cases will become more mainstream and the instances of climate-focused litigation will escalate.
To fulfil these projections, there will be an increased need for specialised climate lawyers. We must not forget that the environment and human rights are intrinsically linked — other fundamental rights also depend on a healthy environment. In this article, we find out what makes a good climate lawyer, and why we need them.
Who are climate lawyers?
Climate lawyers1 are a specialised force focused on the regulation and impact of and around climate change. They understand areas such as net-zero targets, ESG goals (Environmental, Social and Governance), sustainable development, biodiversity, renewables, land contamination, animal conservation and waste dumping. Climate lawyers work on the contentious and non-contentious side as they can act as both advisors to governments, groups and companies and as legal advocates on the accountability, protection, and enforcement front.
This sector is new, providing space for experimentation and quick growth. Since its birth in the late seventies and early eighties, environmental law now encompasses a variety of topics, from pollution, environmental inequality to ocean health (referred to as the blue economy). Its focus is improving the treatment of the environment, natural resources and human rights.
As the amount of information and its complexity grows at increasing speed, there are some clear attributes and skills that will be required of a climate lawyer. Some are attributes that all lawyers must have, whatever specialism, but others are specific if you want to be a climate lawyer. They include the following abilities:
- To communicate effectively both orally and in written documents
- To persuade and sometimes mediate and negotiate
- To multitask and apply strong reasoning and analytical skills
- To absorb vast amounts of information at local as well as international level and stay current through official channels
- To learn to cut out the noise on social media and separate the wheat from the chaff as not everyone who claims to be a climate warrior is one
- To conduct due diligence in large corporate, property and project deals
- To pre-empt investigations and defend clients against claims on pollution, conservation methods, emissions, criminal negligence and general health and safety laws
- To stay heightened on greenwashing risks that may affect your clients
- To determine if there is sufficient evidence to prosecute based on existing regulations and legislation
- To crystalise public interest arguments when bringing action
- To understand highly technical material such as raw data, scientific literature and precedent cases
- To form an opinion as to damages from a particular event; suggest or assign punitive monetary values or remediating actions
- To advocate for the public interest via lobbying and education campaigns or propose legislative change
- To find friends, network and forge relationships with external professionals, such as scientists, analysts and technology innovators
Other aspects of climate lawyering
To take care of the planet as a lawyer applying your professional knowledge, skills and abilities, take care of yourself first. There is a reason we have placed this at the top; campaigning for sustainability will only work if your own momentum is sustainable. It is vital you take care of your own mental health, recognising that climate anxiety is real and you cannot take on the world’s responsibilities alone.
It is difficult to gauge problems unless you spend time at the community level where problems reveal themselves first. Vulnerable communities will suffer the most at the hands of climate change. Through ground-level work, you can find an emotional connection to what you want to advocate and build rapport with the community you want to help. You can do this through voluntary work and speaking with people.
Today, there are also several environmental law organisations and NGOs to get involved with. Start early. Become a member or intern and volunteer where possible. Be active. Share your views wisely on relevant platforms and look out for webinars, podcasts and events to upskill.
When dealing with human rights, it is important to be resilient, open-minded and empathetic. Similarly, stick with your key morals. Focus on best practices to encourage impact of climate change mitigation programmes. If a company claims to have strong ESG values, those values should be upheld.
Fight and argue for the planet rather than accepting monetary compensation from the institutions causing climate change. Of course, as a junior lawyer or new entrant, it will be difficult to properly understand which clients fed funds into your salaries. With sufficient information out there now, research your prospective employers, their green credentials and whether they are on the side of the planet too. This is important so you find like-minded colleagues and enrich yourself and your career.
If you are looking for a role as a climate or environmental lawyer, contact us to discuss your options by arranging a call.
1. The term used in this article in its widest sense includes all focused group lawyers, such as environmental lawyers, biodiversity lawyers, regeneration lawyers, product liability lawyers, conservationist lawyers, impact investing lawyers, agricultural lawyers and many more.