Climate change has made the Earth unwell and in need of competent legal representation from litigators committed to fighting for its survival; becoming ambassadors of change. We often hear about intellects, scientists, politicians, and social justice activists who crusade to create or change laws/statutes surrounding climate change. Oftentimes, however, the unsung heroes go unrecognized. Legal professionals do the unsexy job, working ardently and silently to revolutionize change in state, federal and international courtrooms. “Climate change attorneys advise on four core aspects of law. Transactional advice is the most common aspect, and mainly involves negotiating carbon-related deals (such as carbon credits or projects to reduce carbon emissions, most of which have international dimensions). Next up is litigation; it involves challenging climate change rules, regulations and laws, as well as defining the boundaries of the law. Regulatory advice is a growing area, due to the increasing number of climate change regulations being issued…” (Chambers Associates). The fact is that Climate change is “a justice issue that demands lawyers’ immediate attention, not just a hypothetical problem for a distant future. International rules on emissions cuts, climate change finance and the attribution of responsibility are being decided today, which will have a huge impact on the lives of billions of people for decades to come” (Flynn, 2020).
Environmental law firms are hired by private corporations, governmental agencies, non-profit, and international organizations like the United Nation. Companies are “relying on lawyers more than ever to ensure that their activities are compliant with the latest regulations. Failure to comply leads us to the final aspect, enforcement, which is also rising in prominence as the body of regulations expands” (Chambers Associates). In 2019, “the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates adopted a resolution on climate change. The resolution urges government and the private sector to recognize their obligation to address climate action and to take action, urges Congress to enact climate change legislation and the US government to engage in international efforts to address climate change. The ABA also called on lawyers to take on climate change-related pro bono activities and to advise their clients of the risks and opportunities of climate change” (Vizcarra, 2020).
Passionate environmental attorneys have formed and volunteered pro-bono hours for non-profit organizations. Earthjustice, a 501(c)3 establishment, is one such group. It is “the nation’s premier nonprofit environmental law organization with more than a hundred full-time lawyers on staff and a deep bench of unmatched environmental legal expertise…taken thousands of legal actions on behalf of our planet and the life that depends on it.” (Earthjustice.org-Victories, 2019). Earthjustice is “founded on the belief that everyone has the right to a healthy environment”, and their motto is “We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer” (Earthjustice.org-About, 2019). Earthjustice is made up of “legal and research analysts, policy experts, staff scientists, and more, our team leverages unparalleled legal expertise — from our nation’s highest court, to our local public utility commissions….work is supported and guided by our Board of Trustees and the Earthjustice Council” (Earthjustice.org-About, 2019). “Over four years in office, the Trump administration has dismantled major climate policies and rolled back many more rules governing clean air, water, wildlife and toxic chemicals” (Popovich, Albeck-ripka, & Pierre-louis, 2020). In their January 17, 2020 report, Three Years Battling the Trump Administration’s Attacks on Our Health and Environment, Earthjustice prides itself that of the “120 lawsuits Earthjustice filed in the first two years of the administration to defend health and environmental protections against the Trump administration’s attacks, there have been major decisions on 17 of them. Trump has won only one of these battles. Earthjustice has won 16. Earthjustice has won 94 percent of the legal challenges that have resulted in a major decision, while the Trump administration has won only 6 percent” (Earthjustice.org-Special Report, 2020). Earthjustice states “ we’re more than just lawyers in a courtroom. We go to court for the future of our planet. With unparalleled legal and policy expertise, we face off against big interests with deep pockets — and win” (Earthjustice.org-Victories, 2019).
Law schools are now producing more environmental attorneys. “According to a new report from Law Students for Climate Accountability most of the top 100 law firms in the United States ‘provide far more support to clients driving the climate crisis than clients addressing it…Its research focuses on the work of Vault Law 100 firms, ‘the most prestigious law firms based on the assessments of lawyers at peer firms. According to the group’s scorecard, Vault 100 firms: litigated 286 cases exacerbating climate change (versus three cases mitigating it)…supported $1.316 trillion in transactions for the fossil fuel industry…received $37 million in compensation for fossil fuel industry lobbying…The study analyzed litigation, transactional and lobbying work conducted from 2015 to 2019. Each firm received an overall letter grade reflecting its contribution to the climate problem based on the data in these three categories. Four firms receive an A while 26 received an F. Even among those in the middle, the group found that ‘some firms contribute far more to the climate crisis than others.’” (Makower, 2020).
Conservation attorneys devoted to creating and upholding laws to help the Earth in combatting climate change. These examples demonstrates confidence that the pursuits are not in vain to globally eradicate climate change.
- About. (2019, November 01). Retrieved November 14, 2020, from https://earthjustice.org/about
- Climate change and renewable energy. (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2020, from https://www.chambersassociate.com/practice-areas/climate-change-and-renewable-energy
- Flynn, N. (2020, November 14). A matter of justice: A lawyer’s role in the climate change debate. Retrieved November 14, 2020, from http://www.a4id.org/policy/a-matter-of-justice-a-lawyers-role-in-the-climate-change-debate/
- Makower, J. (2020, October 13). Are lawyers and accountants doing enough on climate change? Retrieved November 14, 2020, from https://www.greenbiz.com/article/are-lawyers-and-accountants-doing-enough-climate-change
- Popovich, N., Albeck-ripka, L., & Pierre-louis, K. (2020, October 16). The Trump Administration Is Reversing More Than 100 Environmental Rules. Here’s the Full List. Retrieved November 14, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks-list.html
- Special Report: Two Years of Overruling the Trump Administration. (2020, June 29). Retrieved November 14, 2020, from https://earthjustice.org/features/two-years-overruling-trump
- Victories. (2019, July 12). Retrieved November 14, 2020, from https://earthjustice.org/our_work/victories
- Vizcarra, H. (2020, July 30). Climate Change is Changing the Practice of Law – Environmental & Energy Law Program. Retrieved November 14, 2020, from https://eelp.law.harvard.edu/2020/07/climate-change-is-changing-the-practice-of-law-beyond-environmental-law/