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:
- reducing emissions – switching to renewable energy, building efficiency
- 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.
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.
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.
Solicitors can play a critical role in taking action against climate change by drafting robust and meaningful net zero clauses in line with the:
- Paris Agreement goals
- Race to Zero requirements
- Oxford Principles for Net-Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting
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
Find out about the Net Zero Lawyers Alliance – mobilising commercial law firms, lawyers and law for climate mitigation and resilience
Find out about Lawyers for Net Zero – working with the in-house legal community, to deliver significant climate action