About Climate Conscious Lawyers

Climate change impacts and the transition to a low-carbon society are already posing fundamental challenges to key legal doctrines and principles and transforming many areas of law.

Further changes to key legal doctrines and principles across all areas of law will be necessary to address the future impacts of climate change and to ensure a rapid transition to a low-carbon society that is just and equitable.

The widespread legal change necessary extends beyond the specialised field of ‘climate’ or ‘environmental’ law and implicates all areas of law and legal practice, including corporate and fiduciary duties, property and tort law, constitutional administrative law and criminal law, as well as civil procedure, evidence law, professional obligations and many more.[1]

Legal change is already occurring through dispersed and multilevel approaches, including by way of international negotiation, domestic policymaking, climate change litigation and political activism.[2]

We need to appropriately support and resource legal professionals to navigate this changing legal landscape and to advance climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Current law students will need a transformative legal education that will guide them to become ‘climate conscious’ legal professionals with the skills and knowledge to be thoughtful strategic and successful advocates in a climate-transformed world.

Many law students recognise that addressing climate change is an urgent imperative and want to develop further skills and knowledge to promote climate mitigation and adaptation.

When current law students enter the legal profession, they will need to navigate a fundamentally transformed climate context, with widespread but unequally distributed impacts experienced across systems, regions and sectors.

An understanding of the impacts of climate change and its intersections with the law is necessary for law students to become strategic and successful legal professionals in a world grappling with intersecting and complex climate impacts.[3]

Finally, current law students will be leaders of the profession at the middle of this century, a time at which the global community has committed to reaching ‘net zero’ emissions.[4]

They need the skills and attributes to not just adapt to change but drive change. It is therefore crucial that climate change considerations need to be mainstreamed across legal education.[5]

It is therefore crucial that climate change considerations need to be mainstreamed across legal education.

‘Climate change mainstreaming’ can broadly be understood as the integration of climate change considerations into government policies, decision-making processes, and activities to support mitigation, adaptation, and the transition towards a net-zero economies.[6]

The process of climate change mainstreaming can and should be extended to legal education, given the growing demand for legal professionals that are ‘climate conscious’.[7]

As the Honourable Justice Brian Preston — the Chief Judge of the Land and Environment Court in New South Wales — explains, climate conscious legal practice requires an attentiveness to the relevance of climate change for different areas of law, and the provision of legal services in a manner that seeks to meaningfully address climate change and promote justice in a climate transformed world.[8]

To support the legal profession in becoming more climate conscious, Justice Preston recognises the need to integrate climate change considerations in legal education and as part of the continued professional development required of qualified practitioners.[9]

In the same vein, the United Nations and law organisations around the world are beginning to incorporate climate change related case law, legislation, and policy into learning materials, learning activities and assessments in the core and elective curricula of undergraduate and graduate law programs.[10]

This raises the question of how to implement climate change mainstreaming, in practice, in the context of legal education.

Drawing on empirical data from a survey of law academics and informed by the practice of law schools around the world, we propose three main approaches to mainstreaming climate change considerations in legal education: supplementing, embedding, and centring.

First, at its narrowest, ‘supplementing’ climate change considerations in legal education involves informal discussion with students about legal developments and case law relevant to climate change and the unit content.

Second, and more broadly, ‘embedding’ climate change considerations entails formally incorporating climate change as part of law unit(s) curriculum, whether on a unit-by-unit basis, or more systemically.

Third, at its widest, ‘centring’ climate change considerations refers to formally incorporating climate change considerations as a leading learning outcome at the course level.

[1] Margaret Young, ‘Climate Change and Law: A Global Challenge for Legal Education’ (2021) 40(3) University of Queensland Law Journal 351–370.

[2] Thomas Hale, ‘“All Hands on Deck”: The Paris Agreement and Nonstate Climate Action’ (2016) 16(3) Global Environmental Politics 12–22; Robert Falkner, ‘The Paris Agreement and the New Logic of International Climate Politics’ (2016) 92(5) International Affairs 1107–1125.

[3] Monica Taylor, ‘Climate Crisis, Legal Education and Law Student Well-Being: Pedagogical Strategies for Action’ (2021) 40(3) University of Queensland Law Journal 459.

[4] Kim Bouwer, ‘Net Zero Rule of Law: Climate Consciousness and Legal Education’, Climate Change and the Rule of Law (University of College London, Centre for Law and the Environment, 10 March 2022) <https://www.ucl.ac.uk/law-environment/blog-climate-change-and-rule-law/net-zero-rule-law-climate-consciousness-and-legal-education>.

[5] Liz Fisher, ‘Climate Change, Legal Change, and Legal Imagination’, Climate Change and the Rule of Law (University of College London, Centre for Law and the Environment, 13 December 2021) <https://www.ucl.ac.uk/law-environment/blog-climate-change-and-rule-law/climate-change-legal-change-and-legal-imagination>.

[6] See generally, Alice Bleby and Anita Foerster, ‘A Conceptual Model for Climate Change Mainstreaming in Government’ (2023) 12(3) Transnational Environmental Law 623.

[7] See, e.g., Kim Bouwer, ‘Climate Consciousness in Daily Legal Practice’, Journal of Environmental Law Blog (22 May 2015) <https://blog.oup.com/2015/05/climate-consciousness-daily-legal-practice/>; Kim Bouwer, ‘Net Zero Rule of Law: Climate Consciousness and Legal Education’, University College London Climate Change and the Rule of Law Blog (10 March 2022) <https://www.ucl.ac.uk/law-environment/blog-climate-change-and-rule-law/net-zero-rule-law-climate-consciousness-and-legal-education>.

[8] Brian Preston, ‘Climate Conscious Lawyering: Implementing a Climate Conscious Approach in Daily Legal Practice’ (2021) 95 Australian Law Journal 51

[9] Ibid.

[10] See, e.g., United Nations, ‘Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ UN General Assembly, A/RES/70/1. 2015; International Bar Association, ‘Climate Crisis Statement’ (Policy Statement, 5 May 2020) <https://www.ibanet.org/document?id=822C1967-F851-4819-8200-2FE298164922>; Law Council of Australia, ‘Climate Change Policy’ (Policy Statement, 27 November 2021) 4 <https://lawcouncil.au/publicassets/4cc8f2e4-375d-ec11-9445-005056be13b5/2021%2011%2027%20-%20P%20- %20Climate%20Change%20Policy.pdf>.