Lawyers lobby G20 over emissions

EARLIER this month UK lawyers issued a “communiqué” calling on the G20 to implement more effective regulation ahead of the Pittsburgh summit which begins tomorrow, and the UN climate-change convention in Copenhagen in December which is expected to produce a successor to the Kyoto agreement.

So, why should world leaders listen to a bunch of City lawyers on the subject of carbon emissions? Simply, says Angela Mouton, a senior associate in Lovells’ energy, natural resources and infrastructure team, because “the legal profession has been at the forefront of driving and calling for policy and regulation in the UK way before 1997 when Kyoto came into force.”

The Legal Sector Alliance (LSA) is a coalition of 126 firms that includes Lovells, Allen & Overy, DLA Piper, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, who are part of an 18-strong coalition calling on world leaders to “translate high policy into binding international agreements”. “We see a lot of regulation that’s bad regulation,” reckons Teresa Hitchcock, who heads up DLA’s UK environmental law team. “The lawyers are the people who have to work with it. It is the tools of our trade. Who better to express views as to what regulation should be coming out of Copenhagen and beyond?”

As Lovells’ Angela Mouton puts it: “We have been there from the beginning. So we’re on in an enviable position to advise, not only on how the market works, but also where we might go moving forward because we have learned so many lessons.”

The firms claim to be practising what they are preaching. The LSA is spearheaded by DLA Piper CEO Sir Nigel Knowles, backed by the Law Society and Business in the Community and was launched at the end of last year by Prince Charles. Mouton explains that the alliance’s origins were about “trying to get law firms themselves to do something about their own carbon footprint”. “So it was really about pointing the finger back at ourselves. However, given that we’ve now been doing that for some time, we think that we are in a very strong position to make statements to the wider public, to institutions, public bodies and commercial bodies that aren’t yet covered by any emissions trading schemes.”

Law firms were given some direct encouragement when the Prince of Wales told the profession at the LSA launch that either we “stand back and do absolutely nothing, or we can stand up and make a difference”. “That is why I can only urge all parts of the legal profession – firms, chambers and in-house legal teams – to sign up to the LSA principles.” Those principles include, as number one, to “measure, manage and reduce the impact of our operations”. Some firms have made public their carbon footprints (Allen & Overy reported 8.52 tonnes of carbon dioxide per staff member per year and the Law Society 2.83 tonnes).

So what do lawyers want? “To ensure that any legislation is clear, proportionate, fits together and that enforcement mechanisms work in a coherent way,” says Vanessa Havard-Williams, global head of environment and climate at Linklaters and chair of the LSA policy committee. “One of the issues with traditional environmental regulation is that it is quite onerous and complex and enforcement can be quite unpredictable. An issue of this magnitude and urgency needs regulation where business can understand easily what its commitments are, what it has to do and what the consequences are of not doing it.”

“Everyone is now looking towards Copenhagen,” says Lovells’ Angela Mouton. “I am hoping that the G20 will be a precursor to that and introduce some kind of unified approach which can be used as significant leverage in Copenhagen. Unless we can bring countries like China, India and some of the other developing countries that are now significant emitters on board there is going to be no significant change. The G20 has an opportunity to formalise that commitment and go to Copenhagen with some ammunition.”