New net-zero networks launched for lawyers and professional institutions

Lawyers for Net-Zero, a new non-profit working with in-house legal counsel teams, has officially launched, in the same week that the UK's biggest professional institutions are set to launch a new Charter for Climate Action.

New net-zero networks launched for lawyers and professional institutions

Nearly 63% investors are unable to discern whether balance sheets accurately reflect climate impacts.

Lawyers for Net-Zero has been founded by Adam Woodhall, a former sustainability storytelling consultant. Its vision, the organisation’s new website states, is “for climate-aware counsel to help their organisations avoid greenwashing and achieve legitimate net-zero”.

The initiative is exclusively focussed on in-house counsel and legal teams due to their work at the intersections of law, business and climate action, the website explains. And, beyond their legal work, in-house counsel often play a key role in advising board members on issues across the spectrum of environmental and social impacts, as well as governance.

Lawyers for Net-Zero’s vision for solutions involves three steps: convening the community, focusing on key areas and generating and maintaining momentum. On the second step, it has developed a set of ‘Net-Zero Action Principles’ that were first piloted in April with a group of 30 legal chiefs. The principles are as follows:

1) Champion net-zero internally

2) Deliver rapid practical action

3) Learn and share key knowledge

4) Influence suppliers

5) Champion net-zero externally

On the generating and maintaining momentum piece, Lawyers for Net-Zero will convene Action Learning Groups, whereby four counsels meet every two to three weeks for a session with an expert facilitator. Sessions are used to share successes, upcoming plans and challenges.

Posting on LinkedIn about the launch of the scheme, Woodhall wrote: ”Lawyers for Net-Zero is the culmination of a lot of my work from the last 15 years, and you can trace its genesis back to my thinking in the early 1990s.

“Things are worse, much worse, environmentally than most people realise. But whilst there isn’t a limitless supply of fossils or biodiversity, human creativity and passion is boundless. So I’m glass half full that we’ll be able to (handbrake) turn the eco-corner, and keep a liveable planet for all. This initiative is my small contribution to unlocking that creativity and passion.”

The launch of Lawyers for Net-Zero comes amid increasing discussions around how credible corporate net-zero targets really are.

In a 2020 poll of 104 energy managers, Inspired Energy found that almost nine in 10 believe ‘net-zero’ is in danger of becoming a meaningless statement unless there’s consistency in approach and measurement among businesses. BNEF, meanwhile, assessed the net-zero strategies of 30 large businesses and found huge inconsistencies.

More recently, South Pole research revealed that just one in 10 firms with a net-zero target has backed up their long-term climate goal with approved science-based targets.

These trends, and ongoing debate around whether 2050 is the right net-zero deadline, prompted a trio of academics specialising in climate change to pen an article on The Conversation slating net-zero as a “fantasy” and a “dangerous trap”. This piece has been widely shared across the green economy and supported by youth activist Greta Thunberg.

Responding to these concerns, the Race to Zero campaign has updated its criteria for membership and for what can be counted as a “leading” or “highly ambitious”. The Science Based Targets initiative has also set new requirements for 1.5C-aligned targets, concerning Scope 3 (indirect) emissions, and is continuing to develop target frameworks for additional sectors.

Charter for Climate Action

In related news, a string of professional bodies representing more than 400,000 staff have signed up to a new Charter for Climate Action, claimed to be aligned with the Paris Agreement and the broader agenda of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The process of developing the Charter was first started at last year’s London Climate Action Week, where some 45 professionals met to discuss how to increase focus on climate solutions ahead of COP26. Seven of these institutions took on the task of co-developing the Charter, which has three overarching commitments.

The commitments are charting a path to sustainability for member organisations, in line with a 1.5C trajectory; speaking with a unified voice to policymakers and the public, and enabling sustainable growth.

As of today (29 July), 13 organisations have announced their support for the charter, namely the Society for the Environment; the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining; the Professional Associations Research Network; the Institution of Environmental Sciences; the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales; the Royal Society of Chemistry; Engineering UK; the Institution of Engineering and Technology; the College of Podiatry; the Royal Meteorological Society; the London Institute of Banking & Finance; the Association for Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision and the Energy Institute.

With more than 13 million professionals belonging to a UK membership association, the Charter could impact up to half of the UK’s working population once additional institutions sign up. The first results of the Charter will be presented at COP26, in the hopes of demonstrating to international governments the importance of professionals in the transition to a sustainable economy.

E3G is the organiser of London Climate Action Week. The think tank’s founding director and chief executive Nick Mabey said: “No one profession or sector can meet the climate challenge alone. This Charter aims to prioritise working together at pace and with new levels of collaboration and professional knowledge sharing. This is essential if we are to head off the climate crisis this decade.”

“The UK’s professional bodies represent the UK’s place at the forefront of thought leadership in all parts of the economy, and are vital to help the UK reach its legally-binding net-zero targets,” added UN High Level Climate Champion for COP26, Nigel Topping. 

Sarah George

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