Category: Law & Justice

Green space in cities can bring considerable health benefits for communities, but access is unequal

Green space in cities can bring considerable health benefits for communities, but access is unequal

By Ambika Chawla

With the arrival of spring, Platte Farm Open Space, located in the diverse, working-class neighborhood of Globeville in north Denver, comes alive with native grasses, pollinator gardens that attract bees and butterflies, and wildflowers, such as Mexican hat, asters, poppies, and Gaillardia.

“This is a beautiful amenity — a beautiful piece of space that was previously being abused,” says Jan Ediger, a longtime resident of Globeville. A former brownfield site, Platte Farm is 5.5 acres (just over 2 hectares) of open green space in the heart of Globeville that, along with the wildflowers, grasses, and gardens, has walking trails, a play area for children, and a detention pond to help prevent localized flooding.

Once a dumping ground for trash and industrial pollution in Globeville, the development of Platte Farm Open Space was a 14-year journey — a collaborative effort between the community members of Globeville, the city of Denver, and Groundwork Denver, a nonprofit organization that works to create green spaces to help improve community health.

“A lot of people come through here walking and jogging. That never used to be the case,” Ediger says. “We always had a few people coming through on the way to the bus stop, as a pass through, but now people come here for exercise. We see kids playing, riding bikes, and their parents come with them.”

Health Disparities and Access to Green Space

Urban greenery, such as the shortgrass prairie of Platte Farm Open Space, benefits people’s health and recreation. But access to nature is unequal for lower-income communities and communities of color compared to affluent white communities.

This past summer, the Center for American Progress and the Hispanic Access Foundation released a report finding that communities of color experience “nature deprivation” at three times the rate of white Americans. According to the report, 74% of communities of color live in nature-deprived areas, with Black communities experiencing the highest levels of deprivation.

report from the Center for American Progress and the Hispanic Access Foundation found that communities of color experience “nature deprivation” at three times the rate of white Americans. Chart by the Center for American Progress based on an analysis by Conservation Science Partners (CSP). Click image to expand.

Meanwhile, in a 2019 study, researchers at the University of British Columbia examined 10 U.S. cities, including New York, Chicago, Houston, and others, and found that Latino and Black communities have less access to urban nature than white communities. “The widespread green inequities uncovered by this research are serious issues in the context of the effects of urban vegetation on urban health and well-being,” the authors write. “Urban residents with lower access to urban vegetation, according to our analyses, are also those who are most likely to experience poor public health outcomes that could potentially be mitigated by adequate exposure to urban vegetation.”

In fact, a growing body of evidence shows that access to green space in urban areas can bring considerable benefits to the health and well-being of city residents. These benefits may include improved cognitive development and functioningreduced symptom severity of attention deficit hyperactivity disorderreduced obesity, and positive impacts on mental health. Looking forward, the University of British Columbia researchers write, the “impact of urban vegetation exposure on the health and well-being of marginalized communities may become even more critical as climate change worsens.”

Gardener at West Athens Victory Garden, photo by Annie Bang

A growing body of evidence shows that access to green space in urban areas can bring considerable benefits to the health and well-being of city residents. Photo taken by Annie Bang courtesy of Los Angeles Neighborhood Trust.

Jennifer Wolch, a professor of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, says these health benefits stem primarily from opportunities for residents to get outside and get active.

“Many epidemiological studies have shown that people who have better access to green space have higher rates of physical activity,” Wolch says. “One of the key problems facing inactive people is that they are at a higher risk of chronic disease, such as diabetes, chronic heart problems, and sometimes cancers. Since access to places to play — whether it’s team sports at a park or simply hiking in a nature preserve — is positively related to levels of physical activity, such parks and open spaces are important elements in keeping people healthy.”

Resources and Strategic Partnerships

“Platte Farm Open Space really is the epitome of a community-led project,” says Cindy Chang, the executive director of Groundwork Denver. “The residents of Globeville had a vision for this land as being an open park that anyone in the community could enjoy. This was a unique process because the community was at the table for almost every design meeting, almost every construction stage, and they even helped decide which kinds of trees would be planted. They were involved in the details in a way that Denver has almost never designed a park before.”

Through a process of remediation, contaminated land was replaced with fresh layers of topsoil, and is now home to prairie habitat that attracts foxes, rabbits, birds and butterflies.

The necessary financial resources to make Platte Farm a reality — money for the purchase of the land, remediation of the soil and planning of the site — weren’t always easy to come by.

For example, in 2013, Xcel Energy and the environmental nonprofit WildEarth Guardians concluded a legal settlement in which Xcel agreed to pay Groundwork Denver US$447,000 to fund energy efficiency and other clean energy projects in neighborhoods in north Denver impacted by air pollution, while channeling the remaining funds toward Platte Farm. In addition, Platte Farm received a US$550,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to help with the construction and maintenance of the site, bringing the project’s total cost to about US$1 million.

Circle of residents is a Community Organizing Event at West Athens Victory Garden in South LA.

While community involvement is often a key to successful green-space initiatives, Alessandro Rigolon, an assistant professor in the department of City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah, recommends green equity groups locate city officials who will be advocates for their work. “They need champions among the elected official community.” Photo of a community organizing event at West Athens Victory Garden in South Los Angeles courtesy of Los Angeles Neighborhood Trust.

Strategic partnerships between a steering committee made up of Globeville community members, Groundwork Denver and the City of Denver also played a vital role in making Platte Farm a reality, particularly given the need for the community of Globeville to have some sort of institutional backing. “Unfortunately, people don’t listen to autonomous communities,” says Ediger. “In a way you have a voice, but it’s not an official voice.”

City-wide policies also helped Platte Farm. “More recently, the city committed to having open space within a 10-minute walk of any resident of Denver,” says Chang. “Platte Farm Open Space allowed them to hold to that commitment in Globeville.”

Chang also notes that the passage of a ballot measure known as Measure 2A was a great achievement for Denver-based environmental justice leaders working to ensure that diverse communities have access to urban nature. The measure, approved by voters in 2018, calls for a quarter percent increase in Denver’s sales tax to be channeled toward expanding the city’s park system.

Healing Spaces

While Platte Farm offers an example of a successful community-led green space initiative in a lower-income, diverse neighborhood, many communities of color in metropolitan areas are still nature-deprived.

Limited financial resources for environmental justice organizations, green gentrification, and redlining are among the many obstacles that have resulted in inequitable access to green space, worsening health disparities among urban communities.

This article was originally posted on ENSIA.
Cover photo by Cassie Gallegos on Unsplash
India farmers’ protests: will the new farm laws address climate vulnerabilities in the agricultural sector?

India farmers’ protests: will the new farm laws address climate vulnerabilities in the agricultural sector?

By Uma Pal

In November 2020, more than 200 farm unions from 22 states across India organised a nationwide protest against the new farm laws introduced by the Indian government. Over the past few months, thousands of farmers have taken to the streets, battling the cold, water cannons and tear gas to demand amendments in the new laws for better income security, market regulation and protection from being exploited by large corporations. The protest, which started in the northern, agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana, has ever since become heavily political, with massive push back by the current government and support from some opposition parties, and gaining traction in the international community. As a result, the Supreme Court of India has put the three new farm laws on hold and asked for a committee to be constituted to resolve the impasse.

The focus of the protests surrounds three farm laws enacted by the Government of India in September 2020, which collectively intend to facilitate barrier-free trade of agricultural produce outside notified markets under the state-controlled Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) laws. They also introduce a framework for contract farming and regulate supply mechanisms for certain crops such as cereals, pulses, potatoes, and onions only under extraordinary circumstances such as famine, price rise and war[1].

Explainer: Why are the farmers protesting? Prior to the introduction of the farm laws, APMCs were controlled under state laws, with states levying taxes and fees from buyers. While the new Act proposes that anyone can buy produce directly from farmers, based on certain conditions, farmers fear that by doing away with APMC, regulated market prices might subject them to market exploitation. The new laws have not envisioned an alternative market system that can set price signals. The other main concern that farmers have is regarding the laws doing away with the federally fixed Minimum Support Price (MSP), a safety net that guarantees farmers prices and assured markets. While the government has made provisions for MSP for 23 crops, only wheat and rice are bought by the government in large quantities under the Public Distribution System (PDS), mainly due to lack of procurement capacity[2]. This has raised concerns regarding MSP limiting crop diversification. MSPs are also variable across states, causing wide variations in price levels across the country[3]. Alongside, less than 10% of farmers sell their produce at the MSP set by governments[4]. However, despite many challenges within the MSP system, a robust MSP mechanism in the predominantly wheat and rice-growing states of Punjab and Haryana is the principal reason why the protest is the strongest in these states[5].  

In essence, the farmers’ protest signifies the vicious cycle of poverty and vulnerability that plagues farmers and the agriculture sector and the dire need for agricultural reforms and social and economic protection structures that take into account farmers’ voices. Close to 43% of the country’s total employed population was engaged in agriculture and allied services as of 2019[6]. However, the sector faces multiple challenges such as fragmented and small landholdings, subsistence farming, fragmented markets with several intermediaries, high costs and margins, low-value addition and low-income share of farmers, and limited access of farmers to institutional finance technology, inputs, and storage.[7] These structural issues are exacerbated by challenges associated with the energy-water-agriculture nexus: Heavy dependence on rainfed agriculture, poor access to and inefficient use of irrigation, water contamination and degradation due to indiscriminate fertiliser and pesticide use, water scarcity, and poor soil health.

Socio-economic vulnerabilities in the agriculture sector exacerbated by the climate challenge

Climate change-induced temperature rise, shifts in rainfall patterns and increased intensity of extreme events further exacerbate existing socio-economic vulnerabilities. The Global Climate Risk Index 2020[8] ranked India the fifth most vulnerable to the impacts of climate. Estimations indicate that climate change is responsible for annual economic losses in the agriculture sector up to 9%[9]. According to India’s Economic Survey 2017-18, climate change could reduce annual agricultural incomes by 15-18% and up to 20- 25% for rainfed agriculture[10]. The survey also indicates that repeated monsoon failures and prolonged drought have been a significant cause for stagnation in the country’s agriculture GDP. Climate projections suggest that rice and wheat yield in India may decline by 6-10% by 2030, while crops like potatoes, soybean, chickpea and mustard may be neutrally or positively impacted in the short term[11]. While there are uncertainties around how climate change affects different regions and crops, it is well established that crop seasons are shifting, and yields of some crops are adversely impacted. These shifts point to an urgent need to incorporate climate considerations into all facets of the agricultural sector. An effective response will require access to climate information, climate-smart practices, new crops better suited for different micro-climates, and interventions for addressing existing socio-economic vulnerabilities. Importantly, climate change needs to be fully integrated into large scale agricultural reforms instead of being seen as a standalone issue.

The Green Revolution in India is the most dramatic example of large-scale agricultural reforms that failed to adequately consider the long-term social, environmental, and climate impacts. The revolution was characterised by short-termism. Initially, the policies increased agricultural production and played a vital role in making the country self-sufficient in food grains. However, in recent years farmers have been dealing with contaminated soil, air and water, and chronic health problems amongst communities; fallout from the heavy use of fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation over many years. These challenges have rendered farming systems in the region highly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as erratic rainfall, droughts, and higher intensity floods, indicating the urgent need to diversify seed varieties and resources used based on regional vulnerabilities[12].

The Indian government has made a concerted effort to tackle the impacts of climate change on agriculture, for example, by researching abiotic stress-tolerant seed varieties, demonstrating climate tolerant technological activities, and encouraging shifts to dryland agricultural practices under the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture. However, domestic agriculture policy considerations continue to fall short of considering long term impacts of climate change while designing reforms and development activities. The new farm laws are a case in point. They do not consider how climate change impacts production causing price volatility and demand-supply gaps, with knock-on effects across agricultural value chains.

The new laws also fail to recognise the economic importance of APMC markets in enabling price discovery and regulating price fluctuations and the need to address existing limitations of the MSP system to incorporate broader climate challenges, diversify the government’s procurement system and scale it up for better access for farmers. In this context, the question remains whether limiting APMC’s influence or not addressing existing challenges within the MSP system is the best way forward.  The farmers do not seem to think so.

The underlying dynamics of the famers’ protest Enhancing growth in the agriculture sector and enabling rural development continues to be a key policy concern for India. The government maintains that the new farm laws are designed to improve farmers’ access to markets and their bargaining power and that the MSP system will continue functioning, and so will the APMC mandi systems, albeit with a more limited scope. However, one of the most extensive critiques of the new Farm Laws is that they were formulated in silos without considering pre-existing diverse contexts, policies, regulations, and interventions in various agricultural states[13]. For example, the new farm laws fail to recognise that multiple states have introduced different localised agricultural market ecosystems and that farmers’ groups play an active role in asserting their market demands and navigating market spaces. Concerns over the government doing away with MSP and existing regulated market systems collapsing are underpinned by a sense that the new farm laws do not consider farmers’ voices, existing localised market dynamics and interactions and context-specific vulnerabilities.

Valuable lessons for climate practitioners from the farmers’ protests

The protests against the farm laws show that when designing policies, regulations and interventions for addressing various bottlenecks within the sector, it is imperative to foster a deeper understanding of on-ground complexities. Socio-economic and climate vulnerabilities, power relations, market dynamics and perceptions of farmers and local players in the sector are crucial considerations for effective policy design and implementation. The farm laws’ inability to take such complexities into account exemplifies how top-down policies and regulatory mechanisms run the risk of not addressing root causes of vulnerabilities and bottlenecks and fail to get buy-in from the community they intend to benefit.

Equally, climate resilience planning and action need to delve into existing nuances and locally-driven processes and partner with on-field experts and players to identify effective entry points and design flexible solutions. Regulations or technological interventions aimed at enabling adaptation, without considering how they will be perceived and how they might impact existing complex ecosystems, runs the risk of exacerbating the very vulnerabilities they wish to address. The farmers’ protest against the new farm laws provides valuable insights into the need to develop participatory and context-specific interventions while also integrating climate change in macro policy considerations. Resilience to climate change can only be effectively enhanced if considered in tandem with the existing array of social, economic and ecological challenges across scales.







[7] Financing agriculture value chains in India: challenges and opportunities. Indian study in business and economics.







Cover photo by Randeep Maddoke, Wikimedia Commons.
Landmark legal case sees Australia’s biggest superannuation fund commit to strong action on climate change after 25-year old Brisbane man sues

Landmark legal case sees Australia’s biggest superannuation fund commit to strong action on climate change after 25-year old Brisbane man sues

By Will Bugler

Australia’s largest super fund, Rest, has agreed to test its investment strategies against various climate change scenarios and commit to net-zero emissions for its investments by 2050, after a legal case brought by a 25-year-old man from Brisbane. Mark McVeigh sued Rest in 2018 for failing to provide details on how it will minimise the risk of climate change. The landmark case represents the first time a superannuation fund has been sued for failing to consider climate change.

Mr McVeigh alleged Rest had breached Australia’s Superannuation Industry Act and the Corporations Act, after it failed to provide him with information on how it was managing the risks of climate change. These risks include physical climate risks that threaten Rest’s investments, and also transition risks which arise from the decarbonisation of the global economy.

Climate change is a ‘material, direct and current financial risk’

Australian law requires trustees of super funds to act with “care, sill and diligence to act in the best interest of members – including managing material risks to its investment portfolio”. In its settlement Rest agreed that its trustees have a duty to manage the financial risks of climate change.

In Rest’s statement about the settlement it said: “The superannuation industry is a cornerstone of the Australian economy — an economy that is exposed to the financial, physical and transition impacts associated with climate change.” and went on to emphasise that “climate change is a material, direct and current financial risk to the superannuation fund”.

Rest also agreed to take immediate action by testing its investment strategies against various climate change scenarios, publicly disclose all its holdings, and advocate for companies it invests in to comply with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Mr McVeigh’s lawyer, David Barnden, head of Equity Generation Lawyers, said the case still sets an important precedent globally. “This outcome should represent a significant shift in the market’s willingness to tackle climate risk—a shift which should set a clear precedent for the industry in Australia, and also pension funds around the world,” he said. Mr Barnden is also representing 23-year-old Katta O’Donnell, who is suing the Australian Government for failing to disclose the risks that climate change could have on government bonds.

Growing momentum behind regulation

The latest cases in Australia are part of a global movement towards stricter regulation governing the financial risks posed by climate change (see Acclimatise’s timeline charting the rise of climate law). In 2015, for example, France introduced laws mandating climate disclosure for institutional investors and asset managers and in 2017 the Financial Stability Board’s Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure published recommendations for corporate climate disclosures. In 2019, National Instrument 51-102 Continuous Disclosure Obligations set out new requirements for firms reporting in Canada to disclose material risks in their Annual Information Form.

The implication of landmark cases such as the Rest settlement, is that super funds, pension funds, banks and other investors will increasingly require companies to understand and manage their climate risks. Earlier this year, Acclimatise worked Working with Asia-Pacific’s largest law firm, MinterEllison to produce a primer on physical climate risk aimed at Non-Executive Directors. The primer was published by Chapter Zero a global voluntary programme that connects and supports Non-Executive Directors to improve oversight and action on the issue of climate change.

Download the primer here.

Cover photo by Sippakorn, on Pixabay.
NEW GUIDANCE: Nine questions that Non-Executive Directors should ask boards today

NEW GUIDANCE: Nine questions that Non-Executive Directors should ask boards today

Acclimatise and Asia-Pacific’s largest law firm, Minter Ellison, are pleased to launch new guidance to assist Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) exercise oversight of corporate action on physical climate risk management. This guidance, prepared for the global Directors’ climate forum, Chapter Zero, brings leading physical risk and legal expertise to bear on an issue that represents one of – if not the – key challenge facing corporates today: How can business build resilience and thrive in the context of a changing climate?

The physical impacts of a changing climate are impacting businesses today, modifying a suite of risks that may previously have been viewed to be managed. These impacts – which are affecting firms, their key stakeholders and supply chains, and customers – risk undermining the foundations of corporate value (including reputation value) and placing constraints on the accomplishment of strategic objectives. Critically, these risks are becoming translated into foreseeable material financial risks and liability risks.

The physical impacts of climate change also raise important far-reaching structural and long-term implications across a host of factors that affect companies. These include access to critical material inputs, labour supply, household income, demand for goods and services, and ecosystem health.

At the same time, investor, insurer and regulatory expectations are increasing, with the disclosures aligned with the Recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) on a course to becoming mandatory in several jurisdictions.

The real physical risks facing firms and the evolving regulatory landscape both create growing urgency on the need for corporates to understand, assess and disclose physical-related climate risks and opportunities. In their oversight capacity, NEDs have a unique and powerful role to play in driving Board-level action on climate risk. By being prepared with key facts and probing questions, NEDs can help improve Board accountability and ensure that key – potentially overlooked – issues are being addressed.

This guidance is designed as a ‘pick-up-and-use’ tool to be used in the boardroom setting today, listing nine key questions (and follow-up questions), covering themes ranging from climate impacts to liability, that NEDs can ask company Directors. The questions are applicable across all sectors, globally. In due course, we intend to release questions targeted at specific sectors.

The guidance also includes a short scientific summary and an overview of recent developments in the disclosure and regulatory landscape.

Access the guidance here.

Contact us at: r.bater(at)

Click here for more information on Acclimatise’s TCFD-aligned disclosure services.

Click here to learn more about Acclimatise’s corporate climate risk and adaptation services.

Cover photo by Patrick Mueller on Unsplash.
Acclimatise’s work during COVID-19

Acclimatise’s work during COVID-19

As efforts to contain the COVID-19 virus continue in every country in the world, Acclimatise would like to take this opportunity to inform you of the measures it is taking to protect its staff and ensure the continuity of its operations.

Acclimatise is a global business, with staff on three continents and active projects in countries around the world. The safety and health of our staff, partners and clients remain the company’s number one priority.

We are actively monitoring advice from the UK government, and the World Health Organization (WHO) to establish our health and security measures. We are closely monitoring official sources of information to make adjustments as needed.

Acclimatise offices are now closed until further notice. We have made provisions for all of our staff to continue to work from home, to ensure the minimum possible disruption to our activities.

Regarding travel, Acclimatise has suspended all international and national travel until further notice. Employees who have travelled abroad recently for personal or professional reasons have been asked to quarantine themselves. Acclimatise staff will not participate in in-person events, meetings or gatherings until further notice. Staff will be able to arrange meetings online using digital conferencing facilities.

These are unprecedented times, however, Acclimatise will continue its work for its clients. Acclimatise project managers are, as always, available to discuss any issues with clients relating to COVID-19 or any other projected-related matter at any time.

Finally, Acclimatise staff would like to express their solidarity with clients, partners and colleagues around the world at this time, and hope that they and their loved ones remain safe and well in the coming months.


All at Acclimatise.

Cover photo image credit:
Learning to love in an era of climate justice

Learning to love in an era of climate justice

By Lydia Messling

What is love? Mother Teresa is quoted as saying “Justice without love is not justice, and love without justice is not love”. If this is true, without climate justice can humanity claim to be loving in an era of climate change?

The term ‘climate justice’ itself is not neutral. It is often associated with liberal, or left-wing politics, and the narrative connection has Abrahamic overtones which may be off-putting for some audiences. For some, it has become more of a protest slogan than an empowering approach to tackling the climate crisis. For others, the climate justice movement is, like Mother Teresa’s quote, all about love. In this sense the twin ideas of love and justice exist in the relationships between people and the actions that they take.

In the academic literature, ‘climate justice’ has a variety of definitions. Philosophers have examined different approaches to just climate change solutions for current generations, future generations, plant and animal life, the distribution of burdens and opportunities, and the morality of contributing to climate change and its solutions, and many more. The common theme, however, is that climate change is causing harm, and that this should be acted upon.

As climate change has been caused by people’s activities, it can be said that human actions have caused harm. But identifying which specific humans are responsible for this harm is complicated. It is impossible to say which person’s emissions from ten years ago caused the crop damage in another country this summer, for instance. We do know that some countries have contributed greater emissions than others, so it may be fair to say that they share more of the responsibility for causing harm.

Indeed, the people that are likely to suffer the worst impacts of climate change are those who have contributed least to it. Some suggest, therefore, that compensation should be paid. This gives rise to a panoply of difficult questions: Who pays the compensation? Are there limits on what the compensation will cover? How much compensation is enough, particularly when people are losing their homes, their livelihoods, and loved ones to rising seas, raging storms, and unbearable droughts? At what point did people become morally responsible for the harm they were causing? What agency did individuals have to affect the collective and prevent the harm? To whom should the compensation be paid? A lot of these people are yet to be born and many of the people who contributed to the harm have already died.

Even the very fundamental questions are difficult to answer when it comes to climate justice: What would be considered a ‘just outcome’? 1.5 degrees of warming, or 2? Or none? Does it matter how this is achieved?

With all of these unknowns how is climate justice attainable or even useful as a concept?

Maybe the answer, as Mother Teresa suggests, is to ‘do love’. If love requires a relationship, then justice is to be done in relationship. ‘Achieving justice’ often makes it sound like justice is about an end outcome. ‘Achieving love’, however, is about a reaching a point in a relationship where all the actions are loving – the end point here is defined by the actions in the relationship.

You don’t say you have achieved love only when there are 64 pairs of earrings that have been given, and 102 romantic meals achieved. That’s a very transactional way of looking at love (and would probably deem a lot of loving relationships void!). Whilst giving gifts may be an aspect of showing love and something one does to express love towards another, it is not the sole definition of love. So, saying that justice had been done-and-dusted when a certain amount of compensation has been paid also seems bizarre. Compensation may be a valid and important aspect of justice, but compensation does not necessarily mean that the issues that led to that situation have been addressed. By understanding climate justice as a ‘relationship status’ – a description of how the actions are in a relationship – rather than just an end outcome, it helps to reveal what’s at the heart of injustices. In this way, we may be able to navigate some of the problems of climate justice without having to knowing about the exact ‘who’ or ‘what’.

By thinking about climate justice in this way, we can begin to talk about procedural justice and the way in which we can develop climate-just relationships – not only transactional checks and balances. Relational climate justice can provide a way of valuing things that are impossible to monetise (like people losing their homes and communities), and think about approaches to actions with people that don’t even exist yet (like how we use resources today that impact upon future generations). In this way, we can move away from the cumbersome conversations about climate justice as a transactional approach solely focussed on achieving a particular end point. Instead, climate justice can be doing love, and love is about how we relate to one another and the earth.

Cover photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Citizens, assemble!

Citizens, assemble!

By Lydia Messling

2019 was the year that the conversation changed on climate change.

The Media and Climate Change Observatory’s analysis showed that across the one hundred newspaper sources, coverage of climate change was up 73% in 2019 compared to 2018, global radio coverage was up 74%, and in the UK and Germany, coverage more than doubled, and the US television coverage increased by 138%.

Figure 1: Newspaper media coverage of climate change or global warming in one hundred sources in seven different regions of around the world, from January 2004 to December 2019.

In a YouGov survey commissioned by the CAST Centre in August 2019, 62% of the UK public said that addressing climate change requires a ‘high’ or ‘extremely high’ level of urgency, with 48% saying they had grown more worried about climate change over the past 12 months.

Figure 2: YouGov survey results of 2000 respondents’ view on the urgency of acting on climate change.

In the lead up to the 2017 general election, only 8% of the British public  considered the environment to be one of the top three important issues, yet in another YouGov survey on issues defining the 2019 UK general election, 25% of Brits put it in their top three, making the environment the 4th most important issue, and neck-and-neck with the economy.

Figure 3: Comparison of 2017 and 2019 YouGov survey results when asking the UK public about opinions on the top three important issues facing the country.

And in 2020, we saw another change in how climate change is talked about.

On the 24th of January, the UK House of Commons launches its citizen assembly on climate change, which will run for four weekends. Unhampered by political rivalries and conflicts of interest, the hope is that ordinary members of the public will meet and form a consensus on how to take action on climate change – succeeding where the politicians have failed. Of the 30,000 people that were invited to participate, only 110 will actually take part, but will form a demographically representative picture of the UK. They will be asked for their thoughts on how the UK should respond to declaring a climate emergency, and what policies should be implemented to meet the net-zero by 2050 target. Many local governments across the UK are hoping to follow suit with councils in Oxford, Bristol, Lincoln, Norwich, Lancaster, Brighton and Hove, and Surrey County Council, to just name a few.

The French government are also holding a citizen’s assembly but equipping them with more bite, having been promised the ability to set France’s policies on cutting carbon emissions by presenting their “unfiltered” proposals to parliament.  Chosen at random, 150 people will meet over seven weekends to discuss issues ranging from plastics and fast fashion, to transport and housing, and to come up with real policy answers to these difficult questions.

Whilst these curated citizen conversations are a radical move with the potential to jump-start action on climate change, they unfortunately don’t necessarily guarantee political action. Even the French approach promising an unedited hearing of the policy proposals, does not guarantee they will pass parliament’s vote. Therefore, it is crucial that we do not just limit climate conversation to citizen assemblies in 2020. The conversations that follow these assemblies, and how well their outcomes are communicated will be vital for ensuring that engagement continues, and for governments to enact the policies needed. Those of us not part of the ‘chosen few’ do not lose our voice either, and can feed into the ongoing conversation and creation of policy options, as well as influencing the context that these citizen assemblies take place. Highly profiled and valued for being representative, the outcomes from the citizen assemblies should be taken seriously and can be a powerful tool in demonstrating a consensus for change. We need to be ready to use the outcomes of these conversations as a way of holding elected decision makers accountable and demonstrating that in a world of uncertainty about climate change and its impacts, the public are certain about taking action, and taking it now.

Cover photo by Lewis Parsons on Unsplash
2019 picks from the Acclimatise article archive – Law

2019 picks from the Acclimatise article archive – Law

Our second article of top picks from our 2019 article archive, features six articles related to climate adaptation and the legal services sector. As climate change and its impacts become increasingly transparent, so has a rise in litigation and the emergence of climate-specific national legislation and policies.  With exposure to legal liability an almost certainty resulting from a failure to understand, disclose and manage climate risk, it is vital to look ahead in an effort to reduce legal liabilities in a changing climate. 

Climate risk disclosures remain a firm part of the voluntary disclosure landscape, due largely in part to the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations. In fact, recent analysis from accounting literature finds that firms following best practice through TCFD-style scenario-analysis and disclosures stand to benefit from minimising liability risk. Over the next decade, Acclimatise will continue to work on physical climate risk and adaptation with corporates and financial institutions helping them to identify and respond to physical risks.

Update to landmark legal opinion highlights growing climate liability of company directors

By Robin Hamaker-Taylor and Nadine Coudel

The 2016 Hutley opinion set out the ways that company directors who do not properly manage climate risk could be held liable for breaching their legal duty of due care and diligence. An update by the Centre for Policy Development reinforces and strengthens the original opinion by highlighting the financial and economic significance of climate change and the resulting risks.

Read the full article here.

Climate change could lead to great wave of legal liability

By Nadine Coudel and Dr Richard Bater 

New International law governing the transition to a low-carbon society and responses to climate risk is driving a rapid rise in climate-specific national legislation and policies, and an increasing amount of litigation. For companies, governments and other organisations these developments provide clear impetus to understand, disclose and manage climate risk. Failure to do so will increase exposure to legal liability. 

Read the full article here.

Climate and law: Sarah Barker, Special Counsel and Head of Climate Risk Governance at MinterEllison

By Will Bugler

In this Acclimatise Conversation on Climate Change Adaptation, Sarah Barker, Special Counsel and Head of Climate Risk Governance at MinterEllison, talks us through why it is so important, from a legal perspective, for businesses to govern for the financial risks associated with climate change.

Read the full article and listen to the podcast here.

Podcast: Global law firm Clyde & Co warns clients of a ‘wave of litigation’ from climate change

By Acclimatise News

In this Acclimatise Conversation on Climate Change Adaptation, we speak with Clyde and Co lawyers Wynne Lawrence and Nigel Brook, about the emerging field of climate liability risk and the pioneering works that the firm is doing to advise its clients about how to respond.

Read the full article and listen to the podcast here.

Podcast: Legal implications of climate change are a big deal for corporates says legal analyst Marcela Scarpellini

By Acclimatise News

In this Accliamtise Conversation on Climate Change Adaptation, we speak with Marcella Scarpellini, a lawyer and legal analyst at right.based on science, a climate metrics and data services provider that is helping companies manage the financial risks of climate change. Here she discusses why legal implications of climate change are a big deal for corporates.

Read the full article here.

Voluntary climate disclosures can reduce litigation risk

By Robin Hamaker-Taylor, Richard Bater, Nadine Coudel

With climate risk disclosures now a crucial part of the voluntary disclosure activities of many corporates and financial institutions, questions around the extent to which they may leave disclosures exposed to litigation linger. Recent analysis from the accounting literature indicates that voluntary disclosures can actually lead to reduced litigation risk.

Read the full article here.

Podcast: Global law firm Clyde & Co. warns clients of a ‘wave of litigation’ from climate change

Podcast: Global law firm Clyde & Co. warns clients of a ‘wave of litigation’ from climate change

In this Acclimatise Conversation on Climate Change Adaptation, we speak with Clyde & Co lawyers Wynne Lawrence and Nigel Brook, about the emerging field of climate liability risk and the pioneering work that the firm is doing to advise its clients about how to respond.

In September 2015 the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, gave his seminal ‘Tragedy of the Horizon’s’ speech, to the insurance market at Lloyd’s of London. In it, he highlighted the severe threats posed by climate change to the financial system and warned the problem risked being ignored because of institutional near-sightedness.

“The classic problem in environmental economics is the ‘tragedy of the commons’… but climate change is a tragedy of the horizon,” Carney said, “We don’t need an army of actuaries to tell us that the catastrophic impacts of climate change will be felt beyond the traditional horizons of most actors. It will impose costs on future generations that the current one has little direct incentive to fix.”

The horizon for monetary policy goes out just a couple of years, and financial stability only about a decade. Carney went on to outline the three main ways in which climate change can affect financial stability:

  1. Physical risks like storms and floods;
  2. Transition risks associated with the transition to a low carbon economy; and
  3. Liability risks, legal claims by those suffering losses due to climate change.

Much of the attention since then has been on the first two categories, the physical and transition risks, but a growing number of lawyers and pioneering legal firms are drawing attention to the third category, the liability risks.

Their work has been reinforced by a growing number of international regulations and national laws and a growing body of case law. One such firm is Clyde & Co, a global firm that focusses on five key sectors: insurance, energy, trade and commodities, infrastructure and transport. The firm soon realised that climate change posed risks to all of these sectors, and so they set up a cross-disciplinary team on climate resilience. Listen to the full podcast to learn more.

Download Clyde & Co.’s climate resilience reports here.

Clyde and Co.’s London Climate Week event signals growing interest in climate liability risk

Clyde and Co.’s London Climate Week event signals growing interest in climate liability risk

By Robin Hamaker-Taylor and Nadine Coudel

As part of London Climate Action Week, law firm Clyde & Co. hosted an event on 5th July, which is indicative of the growing interest and understanding of climate-related liability risks. While the first ever London Climate Action Week saw around 200 events relating to a wide range of aspects of climate change and action to address it, the Clyde & Co. event was one of just a few relating to the legal dimensions of a changing climate. Titled, ‘Climate Change Liability Risk Conference’ the engaging event was well attended by company representatives across various industry sectors, members of the financial services and legal sectors among others.

The event coincided with the release of a new Clyde & Co. report, the third of a report series focusing on climate-related legal risks:  

Acclimatise’s Nadine Coudel, John Firth and Dr Richard Bater were part of the external reviewer group for these reports the second and third Clyde & Co. reports, which were featured during he the Climate Change Liability Risk Conference. The event itself was divided into two main sessions: firstly, each of the three main categories of climate risks (physical, transition, liability) were explored with experts from each of these fields. Then in the second part of the discussion, the practical implications of climate risks for businesses, directors, and officers were addressed by a set of expert panels. Acclimatise’s Chief Technology Officer and co-founder Dr Richenda Connell sat on one of the panels.

The event highlighted many important emerging liability risks associated with the effects of climate change. Significant takeaways from the day are summarised below.

Liability risks grow as the climate continues to change

Presentations from experts in the physical climate science and emerging policies and technologies kicked off the event. Important background information around the physical and transition risks associated with a changing climate was shared, serving as a stark reminder of the scale of the challenge at hand.

Set against the incontrovertible evidence of a climate system where fundamental and severe changes are already underway, partners from Clyde & Co.’s offices in Sydney, New York, and London discussed the overall trends regarding climate-related litigation, regulation and standard setting. The number of climate-related litigation cases is on the rise: there are currently more than 1000 pieces of climate litigation, including federal statutory claims, over 300 state law claims, and 69 adaptation-related claims. The U.S., Germany, and Australia are currently where most activity can be found on climate litigation.

The legal basis of claims includes public or private nuisance, product liability, or negligence. The fossil fuel industry, for example, is particularly exposed to liability risk as courts consider whether leading firms have done enough to enable the transition to a low carbon economy, in the face of evidence that the product that they are selling does harm.

The assertions at the event that there has been an increase in climate litigation are reinforced by analysis by Acclimatise, showing that there is simultaneously an increase in national legislation – translating countries’ commitments set out in their NDCs under the Paris Agreement into national laws and policies. Liability risks look to increase and advance in the future, as panellists suggested attribution science, supervisory or regulatory scrutiny, and investor interest, to name just a few.

Climate-related legal risks stemming from physical risks

In the expert panel, ‘Indirect exposures – the sleeping giant of liability risks to corporations’ the discussion turned to the known and potential liabilities businesses, directors, and officers are facing stemming from both physical and transition climate risks. Dr Richenda Connell, made several salient points about climate-related legal risks stemming from physical risks and climate adaptation that corporates may not be immediately aware of, including the following:

  • For corporates with long-lived fixed assets, physical climate risk and adaptation is a relevant consideration at many stages in the asset lifecycle – from early concept, to site selection, design, construction, operation and through to decommissioning. But in many cases is not yet being considered. Existing physical assets may already have embedded risk and liabilities if physical climate risk was not taken into account;
  • Public-private-partnership (PPP) contracts are another area. These contracts are typically long term (ca. 20 years) and inflexible. A changing climate can stress the risk-sharing contractual obligations of all parties in a PPP. PPP contracts have provisions for unforeseen risks in “force majeure” clauses, for example. But today’s extreme weather events will be tomorrow’s new normal. Force majeure clauses do not adequately capture changing climate risks. Acclimatise produced a report with the World Bank which discusses these challenges in the management of climate risks in infrastructure PPPs; and
  • Contractual relationships in supply chains is another area. Supply chain disruption is relevant to many corporate sectors. The Thailand floods in 2011 showed how climate impacts in one part of the world can affect customers globally. Similar issues are relevant for supply chains reliant on agriculture, which is a particularly climate-sensitive sector. Contractual relationships for all actors in the supply chain, up to commodity traders, will be increasing stressed by a changing climate.

The direction of travel for businesses, directors, and officers is clear

A growing number of organisations have taken action on transition risks and have started to actively engage with physical climate risks, albeit to a lesser extent. Yet, interest and action relating to climate-related liability risks is still in nascent stages, so this Clyde & Co. event was a welcome addition to the wider progress on climate risks. In fact, the event signals the growing awareness of the legal dimensions of climate change. The direction of travel was made clear during the event: climate change is now a ‘c-suite’ issue and along with that comes liability to engage with the issue.

As Acclimatise has recently written, company directors must not only adopt an enquiring posture toward their firm’s contribution to, and vulnerability to, climate change, but manage and disclose climate risks they face in a robust and transparent fashion.

Cover photo by J Zamora on Unsplash.