More than 250 legal professionals, from junior lawyers to King’s Counsel, senior partners and Professors of Law have written an open letter warning that:

  • Breach of the 1.5˚C Paris threshold threatens mass loss of life and the end of the rule of law.
  • Companies which provide misleading information about the climate crisis or their own contribution to it may also face criminal prosecution.
  • The Government’s failure to align policies to 1.5˚C may give climate protestors a good legal defence to criminal charges.

They also highlight the role of the City of London (and City lawyers) in supporting 15% of global carbon emissions.

Open letter (as originally signed)

Open letter (updated with additional signatures)

To add you name to the letter

Background notes

Press release

Good Law Project tweet

Plan B reply to Just Stop Oil

Letter to signatories from Just Stop Oil

City law firms accused of greenwashing (The Times, 15 September 2022)

Climate crisis ‘threatens rule of law and civilisation’, lawyers warn, in call to end fossil fuel links (The Independent)

Commercial lawyers complicit in climate crisis by defending fossil fuel clients, KCs warn (Morning Star)

Lawyers should have “ethical obligation” to advise on climate risks (Legal Futures)

Lawyers expose clients to ‘substantial legal risk’ by failing to consider climate targets (Ends Report)

UK lawyers warn unchecked climate change threatens ‘end to rule of law’ (Business Green)

Top City firms must do more to avoid climate ‘catastrophe’ (Legal Cheek)

Lawyers urged to warn clients when deals could undermine climate change targets (The Global Legal Post)

Lawyers should have to warn clients about environmental damage, say campaigners (Law Society Gazette)

Climate campaigners call for lawyers to warn clients of environmental risks (Irish Legal News)

Developments in climate change for lawyers (Law Society Gazette)

Margherita Cornaglia, a junior barrister and one of the drafters of the letter, said:

“The legal profession is awakening to the impact that the climate and ecological crisis has and will continue to have on the application and development of legal principle. Junior lawyers and lawyers joining the profession are increasingly knowledgeable about climate law and litigation, increasingly concerned and increasingly motivated to be part of the solution, not the problem. The tides are changing.” 

Jonathan Goldsmith, Law Society Council member for EU & international, chair of the Law Society’s Policy & Regulatory Affairs Committee and a member of its board, said:

“The drafters of the letter are right to point out that the consequences risk the rule of law itself, which is what we all serve.”

Marc Willers KC, one of the signatories to the letter, said:

The rule of law should be the bedrock of our societies. As the evidence mounts that human-made climate change poses an extreme threat to society, nothing is more vital than that the legal profession keeps pace. If we legitimise actions which we know to be inconsistent with what the science demands (i.e. limiting warming to 1.5˚C), we risk undermining all that the profession stands for.”

Attorney-at-Law, Melinda Janki, who is leading litigation challenging ExxonMobil’s deep water drilling offshore Guyana, said:

 “We are already seeing the devastation of a 1.2˚C increase in temperature. 1.5˚C is an ecocidal prospect.  All States, but especially the big historic polluters like the USA, UK, and EU, have a duty to stop fossil fuels as fast as possible and prevent further harm to the peoples and other living beings on this earth. We have no other home.”

Dr. Kinnari Bhatt, Solicitor, Director & Academic said:

The foundation of international law is the no–harm principle, ie the principle that it is unlawful for one country to permit activities which cause serious harm to the territory of another state. With tens of millions of people now suffering from extreme flooding in Pakistan, attributable to the climate crisis, and famines, also resulting from climate change, threatening the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan (not to mention the floods, wildfires and drought we’ve experienced this summer in the UK) there is no question that maintaining the 1.5˚C Paris limit is critical to preserving the whole, interconnected system of the rule of law.”

Tim Crosland, a former Government lawyer, and Director of Plan B.Earth, said:

“The rule of law is being corrupted. There’s no accountability for those exposing the public to extreme risks by knowingly breaching the 1.5˚C climate change limit – humanity’s lifeline – while those taking peaceful and proportionate action to prevent the ultimate crime against humanity are persecuted and threatened with 10 years’ imprisonment. It’s time to take a stand.”

 

Historical perspectives

Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, 1963

Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges: Judicial Opposition Against the Nazi State, Hans Petter Graver, 2018