Climate change

Net zero: what solicitors can do

With an increasing number of governments and companies making net zero pledges, we discuss what net zero means and how it affects solicitors.

What is net zero?

Net zero is when the amount of greenhouse gas emissions being put into the atmosphere is equal to (or less than) the amount being removed.

In 2015, 191 countries committed to helping to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above late 19th century levels, in line with the Paris Agreement.

Why is net zero important?

If global warming is not restricted to 1.5°C, it will result in:

  • extreme drought and water scarcity
  • an increase in extreme weather events
  • species and biodiversity loss and extinction
  • reductions in cereal crop yields and threats to food security

To avoid this, we must reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has advised that we should aim for net zero by 2050.

How to achieve net zero

There are two ways to reach net zero:

  1. reducing emissions – switching to renewable energy, building efficiency
  2. removing emissions (also known as ‘carbon offsetting') – this includes maximising carbon sinks such as trees, and the use of carbon capture and storage technology

It’s important to use carbon offsetting as a tool in the transition towards net zero, not as a crutch.

Read the Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting 

Inconsistencies with target-setting

As there’s no official definition of net zero within the UNFCCC Paris Agreement, there are inconsistencies with target-setting and accounting models used for net zero targets.

This threatens the legitimacy of the term as well as the global likelihood of meeting the Paris Agreement’s targets.

To avoid these inconsistences, take a look at Net Zero Climate's principles for making a net zero commitment

What can solicitors do?

A commitment to change

We've published a climate change resolution to support solicitors, companies and firms developing a climate-conscious approach to legal practice.

Law firms and businesses can take meaningful steps by:

  • adopting science-based targets and reporting publicly on the outcomes
  • introducing practical measures to reduce the environmental impact on their business
  • developing well-supported career paths for solicitors who wish to transition into distinct disciplines relating to climate change

We encourage our members to adopt and endorse our resolution, but this is just the first step. Translating it into action must follow.

Take a look at the tools available to your business in the race to net zero

Contract drafting

Solicitors can play a critical role in taking action against climate change by drafting robust and meaningful net zero clauses in line with the:

See the Chancery Lane Project's net zero toolkit to find out more about drafting climate-aligned clauses

Similarly, law firms can also adopt net zero targets using best practice to join the race to net zero.

Develop a strong understanding

Solicitors and firms will therefore need to have a good understanding of what net zero means as it begins to steer business planning, governance and policy.

It’s also critical that solicitors understand net zero to ensure that:

  • their legal drafting is as clear and transparent as possible on net zero targets
  • they can advise on the nuances of net zero and climate change when drafting and advising clients
Learn more about what net zero means for solicitors

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