The Rule of Law and Lawyers’ Professional Commitments in the Face of Climate Change

Earlier this year I wrote a blog about lawyers, climate change,. and the rule of law. That was a precursor to a significant conference on climate change and the rule of law that we held at UCL.

I’ve now written up my conference talk into a free-to-access paper. Here’s the abstract:

Lawyers are everywhere in the context of climate change. Lawyers facilitate and support the economic activity generating emissions; they have shaped, and continue to shape, legal regimes under which the state regulates (or fails to regulate) climate-change causes and impacts; they press claims and defences in climate-change disputes. In each capacity, the lawyer acts not only as representative of a client, but also as a professional bound by commitments to the public interest and the rule of law.

This paper examines the contested nature of these professional commitments. Determining what is required of the lawyer in the context of climate change—whether neutral counsel on the law as drafted, or substantive commitment to climate-change mitigation, even to the point of demanding law reform, for example—implicates fundamental debates over the rule of law. While competing conceptions of the rule of law—thicker or thinner, procedural or substantive—will persist, the legal community needs to address lawyers’ professional commitments in the face of climate change.

One of the main points of the paper is that we – the profession, its regulators, us academics – need to engage in what Jeremy Waldron called ‘reasoned thoughtfulness’ about the rule of law and how it might apply to lawyers in the context of climate change. Given what’s been happening on Twitter these last couple of days – with the ‘rule of law’ being deployed in very particular (and contestable) ways – that sort of thoughtfulness seems more important than ever.

I’ll be speaking further on these broad issues at 6pm on 13 October 2022 at a public lecture to be held at UCL, titled ‘The Unethical Environmental Lawyer’. A date for your diaries, with an online sign up to follow shortly.

One thought on “The Rule of Law and Lawyers’ Professional Commitments in the Face of Climate Change

  1. It is a waste of time and money cutting carbon emissions in UK or Europe while China and India build as many coal fired power stations as they can manage. The amount the UK can save is less than 1% so why cripple our economy making useless efforts ?

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