UN Race to Zero’s draft guiding principles for serviced emissions – Law Society response

We support the United Nations (UN) Race to Zero’s aims, and we also know that legal professionals play a significant role in transitioning to Net Zero. However, we think their principles could go further.

We have responded to the UN Race to Zero’s consultation on its draft guiding principles for serviced emissions.

The draft principles outline how ‘professional service providers’ (PSPs) – including lawyers – should measure and reduce ‘serviced emissions’, which are emission relating to the matters that professional service providers advise on.

Our response supports the ambition from the UN Race to Zero and recognises the important role solicitors play in the transition to Net Zero.

However, we believe there are some key limitations with the current draft.

In our climate change guidance, we provided some initial guidance on the issue of ‘serviced emissions’ (referred to as ‘advised emissions’ in the guidance).

Efforts have also been undertaken by law firms and cross-law firm initiatives who are looking at this issue (such as the Legal Charter 1.5 which is developing a methodology, and the Net Zero Lawyers Alliance).

We also recognise that solicitors have a unique role and regulatory standards to uphold in relation to supporting the rule of law and access to justice.

These are fundamental in supporting climate justice and the just transition to Net Zero.

Our view

Our response raises the following points:

Qualitative and quantitative approaches to measuring serviced emissions

The principles rely upon quantitative methodology to measuring serviced emissions that currently does not exist.

We therefore recommend that a qualitative approach should be explored in the absence of a quantitative methodology to make the principles more practical.

Framing and purpose of the principles

It is unclear how the principles should be applied and how they interact with other frameworks.

The principles also arguably currently take the form of ‘guidance’ rather than high-level principles, and the scope of ‘professional service providers’ the principles apply to is limited.

Data challenges

Based upon current capability restraints, data availability, and regulatory tensions, it may prove challenging to gather the necessary data to measure serviced emissions even if a methodology existed.

Emphasis on opportunity and business strategy

The principles should emphasise that altering core business strategy to support transition, as well as making the ‘business case’ for measuring and reporting serviced emissions as this will be critical for widespread adoption.


At least initially, it will only be feasible for large PSPs to engage with serviced emissions.

However, we have also been advised that large firms would also struggle to invest in this additional cost without a clear business and impact case in relation to serviced emissions.

Current lack of client demand

It will be challenging for many PSPs to make the business case for dedicating the time required to implement serviced emission-related policies and strategies without a strong financial incentive, which would only likely come from clients.


In order for serviced emissions-related policies to be adopted by firms, they will be led by continued government action to properly support the transition to Net Zero.

If government action wavers, then it might threaten implementation.


Potentially the greatest challenge; many professional service providers, including solicitors, have issues as to whether they should assume responsibility for their clients’ actions.

This is particularly complex in light of legal professional rules and responsibilities.

What this means for solicitors

Solicitors play an important role in the transition to net zero, and serviced emissions are growing consideration for many law firms. However, our response highlights that the Draft Principles have limitations in their practicality and scope of application to professional advisors.

We're emphasising that any sector specific guidance should consider solicitor’s professional duties and the unique role they play in upholding the rule of law.

What happens next?

We will continue to engage with the UN Race to Zero on this matter, and advise that we would be pleased to contribute to any working group on this matter.

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