Category: legal liability

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.
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.

Embracing uncertainty: How disclosing uncertain information on climate risk can reduce legal liability exposure

Embracing uncertainty: How disclosing uncertain information on climate risk can reduce legal liability exposure

By Marcela Scarpellini, right. based on science UG

As climate related damages increase, the need to allocate funds and apportion blame will inevitably follow. In this context, the mechanisms used for determining responsibility are likely to become, to say the least, very creative.

Pressure for proactive climate action and better response is mounting thanks to legislation and regulation, litigation, shareholder demands, citizens calling for more action, carbon taxes and concrete mitigation and adaptation plans.

The status and intent of current regulations relating to climate change and the legal infrastructure that is expected to support or deter the transition to a low carbon economy, provide a good indication of the stringency and certainty of the measures that will follow.

After Bank of England Governor Mark Carney’s famous warning in his 2015 speech regarding the threat climate change posed to our financial systems, financial institutions and governments started to wake up to the issue. This meant paying attention to – and developing an understanding of – how climate risks might play out and affect businesses future profitability and the stability of the wider financial system. In response, the G20’s Financial Stability Board established the Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosures (TCFD).

Point in time: Disclosure

The TCFD‘s purpose is to provide corporates and financial institutions with a framework for climate risk disclosure in two key respects. First, with regard to the analysis of the physical and transition risks and opportunities they may face due to climate change. Second, with regard to the development of appropriate strategies to respond to the consequences of those risks materialising.

This initiative, which already has 513 official supporters across businesses, advisory firms, and financial institutions, is a voluntary framework. The main political intention behind it – in combination with the EU Directive on Non-Financial Disclosures, EU Shareholders Directive and other upcoming EU financial regulation – is to foster transparency by requiring corporates and financial institutions to disclose information on material impacts of the physical and policy risks (transition risks) connected with climate change.

The TCFD recommendations are just a first step. Increasing transparency is a means to an end, not an end in itself: boilerplate and vague disclosures will not cut it. The intention of climate risk disclosures is to provide legislators with a broad understanding of the current state of investments and business bets into a certain world, in order to come up with evidence-based legislation that actually has a chance of reshaping our economies.

In this context, corporates and financial institutions have started to work out the best ways to generate relevant disclosures. The first attempts to generate this information using the TCFD framework have been released, but there is still a long way to go.

Hot topic: scenario analysis

One of the challenges of applying the TCFD framework has been the use of scenario analysis. Scenario-analyses are forward-looking tools intended to allow users to imagine how a range of possible futures could look, the risks and opportunities entailed in those different futures and get its users to pin down how their companies would be affected if any of those futures materialized. The overarching purpose is to enable firms to develop strategic and resilient business plans to incorporate envisioned or possible changes.

A concrete way in which companies make use of scenario analyses is by using them to understand how their capital requirements might be impacted under a range of plausible scenarios. Using scenario analyses, companies can peer into the future and build resilient responses to a world in which extreme events and their financial impacts are no longer sporadic but recurrent.

Scenario analysis is a time and capacity consuming challenge. Despite this, many companies, particularly within the oil & gas sector, have been using these tools for some time, and companies in other sectors are starting to do so too.

Another significant hurdle for companies performing scenario analysis stems from having to disclose the information generated. Many businesses are wary of this since, it is suggested, the information generated by scenario analysis is just hypothetical, which could, in turn, be misconstrued as a fraudulent, deceptive or incorrect disclosure, potentially opening the door to liability exposure. However, in reality, this constitutes a narrow view of the story.

Understanding risk

Properly understood, scenario-analysis is a risk assessment tool, so the information derived from it is the same in nature as information relating to other risks that might affect a company. Risks are hypothetical by nature and gain validity when substantiated through evidence and justification.

What it takes to reduce disclosure-related liabilities is a thorough and well-presented substantiation of the information provided, with clear and precautionary wording regarding how this information ought to be interpreted and construed.

A stream of forward-looking legal experts, within the Commonwealth Climate and Law Initiative, are of the opinion that disclosing forward-looking information in line with the TCFD Recommendations might, on the contrary, reduce liability exposure. Their claim is justified by understanding the core intentions of the TCFD’s recommendations, namely transparency and accountability. Therefore, firms able to demonstrate that they are acting to understand and manage climate risk will be acknowledged for that in the light of corporate responsibilities such as due diligence and good corporate governance. In understanding the purpose of disclosure, firms are allowed to make mistakes, though they are not allowed to be fraudulent, deceptive and manipulative about the future in order to ensure certain business interests.

As more firms get on board with the TCFD recommendations, using them as guidelines for disclosure, it is likely that they become reference points and that national laws start to be interpreted in light of the most advanced practices. In jurisdictions such as the UK, where an objective test applies to determine the extent and manner in which directors have exercised their duty of care and due diligence, this determination is likely to be done on the basis of what others in the industry are doing. If and when TCFD becomes best-practice, this is likely to become the yardstick against which these determinations will be made[1].

Good practice to reduce liability

Scenario-analysis remains a beneficial tool, despite the fact that it is still becoming an established best practice and mandated by law. To reduce firms’ concerns around liability associated with scenario-analysis, and to encourage them to start using it and disclosing climate risk information prudently, a series of recommendations follows:

  • Use proper cautionary language.
  • Use a variety of scenarios, at least three would be advisable.
  • Place all scenarios within the same section and under the same fonts in your disclosure as to avoid that any be interpreted as being favoured.
  • Use multiple sources for data and narratives and seek insights from new sources.
  • Use current data and justify your choice of providers.
  • Ensure your scenarios reflect the variance (climate, political, social, regulatory) and are relevant to the entirety of the company´s operations.
  • Use information derived from scenarios in order to justify likelihood and not infallible certainty.
  • Not disclosing any forward-looking information under the false pretence that it might make your company liable is a greater risk than disclosing uncertain information.
  • If you are not sure of how to go about it, hire consulting services to guide you along the way.

Further reading:

https://www.right-basedonscience.de/2017/08/04/better-safe-than-sorry/

Marcela Scarpellini studied law at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas (Venezuela) and has an LL.M. from the University of Stockholm (Sweden) in the field of environmental law. Within right.based on science (“right.”) she works at providing the legal context upon which right.´s X-Degree Compatibility (“XDC”) model and other metrics are developed.

right. based on science is a data provider founded in August 2016, which measures a single economic entity’s contribution, be that of e.g. a company or a lending project, to manmade climate change. With a team of experts with backgrounds in law, science, economics, psychology and mathematics, right. is devoted to the development of the XDC Model, which calculates science-based climate metrics on the basis of latest climate research and regulatory requirements, in order to deduct an entity’s X-Degree Compatibility.


[1] Concerns misplaced: Will compliance with the TCFD recommendations really expose companies and directors to liability risk? Alexia Staker, Alice Garton & Sarah Barker. Commonwealth and climate law initiative.


Photo by Krissana Porto on Unsplash

The global law firm Clyde & Co. launches climate change liability risks report

The global law firm Clyde & Co. launches climate change liability risks report

By Nadine Coudel and Dr Richard Bater

In March 2019, Clyde & Co. launched its climate change report Climate change: Liability risks, a rising tide of litigation‘. The report explores the liability risks that organisations have faced and continue to face as plaintiffs attempt to use the courts to further their cause or sue for damages.

The report provides a broad overview of the evolving litigation risk landscape arising from the effects of climate change, identifying some of the key themes, controversies and legal hurdles.

The authors suggest that the significance of this trend should not be underestimated, with over 1200 climate change cases having been filed in more than 30 jurisdictions to date. As both litigation approaches and scientific evidence evolve, litigation increasingly represents a powerful tool in the hands of those who seek to attribute blame for contributing to effects of climate change or failing to take steps to adapt in light of available scientific evidence.

In as much as the physical risks of climate change raise both direct and indirect implications for a diversity of sectors, so too do the associated legal risks. As Clyde & Co Partner Nigel Brook remarks, “As the volume of climate change litigation grows and legal precedents build, new duties of care are emerging and the liability risk landscape is undergoing a shift which is likely to affect a wide range of commercial sectors”.

The authors classify litigation which has been emerging over the last two decades into three broad categories:

1. Administrative cases against governments and public bodies;

2. Tortious claims against corporations perceived as perpetrators of climate change;

3. Claims brought by investors against corporations for failing to account for possible risks to carbon-intensive assets or for failing to account for or disclose risks to business models and value chains in financial reporting.

The report also addresses novel approaches that claimants are adopting when bringing climate litigation, as well as the practical and legal considerations that these give rise to.

Finally, the report looks at global trends in climate litigation and their implications for businesses in different industries around the world, highlighting the issues which should be on companies’ radars over the months and years to come. The authors indicate that climate change litigation has already been deployed against companies beyond the oil and gas majors and suggest that this trend is likely to continue.

Litigation has advanced far from being targeted at first line ‘emitters’ to being used as a means of holding companies accountable for how they respond to the physical and financial risks of climate change. Clyde & Co. plans to explore these liability risks in greater depth in future reports.


Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

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

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

By Robin Hamaker-Taylor and Nadine Coudel

An update to the landmark 2016 Hutley opinion has been released by the Centre for Policy Development (CPD) on 29th March, 2019. The 2016 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.

The supplementary opinion, provided again by Noel Hutley SC and Sebastian Hartford Davison on instruction from Sarah Barker, reinforces and strengthens the original opinion by highlighting the financial and economic significance of climate change and the resulting risks, which should be considered at board-level. It puts an emphasis on five key developments since 2016 that have built up the need for directors to take climate risks and opportunities into account and reinforced the urgency of improved governance of this issue. While the 2019 opinion is rooted in the Australian context, just as the 2016 opinion, it has much wider applicability, as much of the developments discussed in the update have been simultaneously happening in jurisdictions outside of Australia.

The five areas of development covered in the 2019 supplementary opinion include:

  1. Progress by financial supervisors: The 2019 opinion suggests statements made by Australian supervisory organisations such as the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Reserve Bank indicate they now all see the financial and economic significance of climate change. Similar realisations have been happening among supervisory organisations in the UK, with the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) due to imminently release a supervisory statement on banks’ and insurers’ approaches to managing the financial risks from climate change, following a public consultation on the matter in late 2018 / early 2019. At the European level, the wider sustainability of the financial system is under review with the European Commission rolling out its Action Plan for Financing Sustainable Growth;
  • New reporting frameworks: Three new reporting frameworks have emerged since 2016. The most broadly applicable is The Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations. In June 2017, the TCFD, a task force set up by the Financial Stability Board in 2015, published its final recommendations to help companies disclose climate-related risks and opportunities. The Principles for Responsible Investing (PRI) and CPD frameworks have now both aligned their climate-reporting frameworks with the TCFD recommendations. The other two reporting frameworks mentioned in the 2019 supplementary opinion are more relevant for the Australian context, and include the new recommendations on assessing climate risk materiality from the Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB) and the Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (AUASB), as well as the updated guidance from the ASX Corporate Governance Council;
  • Mounting investor and community pressure: Investors and community groups are increasing voicing concern around climate risks;
  • Development of the scientific knowledge: The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a special report on the impacts of 1.5 °C warming in 2018. The opinion recognises this as a “notable development in the state of scientific knowledge” that affects the gravity and probability of climate risks which directors need to consider; and     
  • Advances in attribution science: Important developments in attribution science have now made it easier to identify the link between climate change and individual extreme weather events.

The opinion suggests management of climate risks will require engagement with company directors in certain sectors in particular. These include banking, insurance, asset ownership/management, energy, transport, material/buildings, agriculture, food and forest product industries.

CPD CEO Travers McLeod, explains the implications of this supplementary opinion for company directors, stating “the updated opinion makes it clear that the significant risks and opportunities associated with climate change will be regarded as material and foreseeable by the courts. Boards and directors who are not investing in their climate-related capabilities are exposing themselves and their companies to serious risks”, according to a press statement.

Mr Hutley and Mr Hartford Davis write “the regulatory environment has profoundly changed since our 2016 Memorandum, even if the legislative and policy responses have not” […]“These developments are indicative of a rapidly developing benchmark against which a director’s conduct would be measured in any proceedings alleging negligence against him or her.”

The 2019 update to the 2016 landmark Hutley opinion also provides ample evidence as to why company directors all over the world not only need to be aware of their firms’ contribution to climate change – it is just as important to assess and disclose their potential climate risks in a transparent manner. It is therefore vital to ensure that future business plans are in line with the Paris Agreement and to also anticipate and prepare for climate change impacts, both in terms of risks and opportunities. The voluntary TCFD recommendations provide a framework for both corporates and financial institutions for assessing and disclosing climate risks and opportunities, and mandated disclosures are on the horizon. 


Acclimatise – experts in physical risk assessment and disclosures

Acclimatise has worked on physical climate risk and adaptation with corporates and financial institutions for over a decade, helping them identify and respond to physical risks and to take advantage of emerging opportunities generated by a changing climate. We have witnessed the corporate, societal and environmental benefits stemming from the promotion of resilience-building strategies.

To discuss how your organisation can meet TCFD or other disclosure requirements, please contact Laura Canevari: L.Canevari(a)acclimatise.uk.com

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