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Why Lawyers Will Love the Climate Change Agreement

The Climate Change Agreement struck in Paris this weekend has not been without law firms who have used the conference to develop their ‘climate change’ practices and lawyers will be loving the agreement.

Among the firms attending have been Baker & McKenzie who have been driven to the “COP 21” conference (for ‘Conference of the Parties’ to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change).

If clients are there, then so too will be the lawyers and dozens of Big Law clients were at the conference, which represented a major gathering of business, NGOs and academia.

RichardSainesBaker + McKenzie’s Chicago partner Rick Saines head Baker’s North America Climate Change and Environmental Markets Practice and saw the opportunity for law firms to be “in the thick of it,” he he told Bloomberg BNA.

It marks the 21st annual meeting of the “Conference of the Parties” to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or for short — COP 21.

The conference, which runs from November 30 to December 11, is expected to attract 45,000 participants.

Many of these will be current and potential Big Law clients. “Outside of a formal negotiating process, there’s a huge global gathering of the business community, academia, environmental NGO’s, and investors all doing their own events,” said Rick Saines, who heads Baker & McKenzie’s North America Climate Change and Environmental Markets Practice. “It’s a great opportunity for law firms to be right in the thick of it.”

Saines, based in Chicago, is leading a contingent of six Baker & McKenzie attorneys to Paris: “We have dozens and dozens of clients that are going to be there,” he said. “This is one of our major global gatherings every year.”

Law firms have monitored climate change politics since the relative failure of the Kyoto and Copenhagen agreements, seeing the Paris conference as a tipping point which, now with the agreement reached, will herald a continued law firm goldrush towards securing work in what has been described in some quarters as one of the biggest political agreements in history.

“It’s unusual that 140 world leaders would attend at the outset of this meeting,” Saines told Bloomberg. “They don’t do that every year. It signals this is a significant COP, compared with others.”

New Mindset

The political consensus reached in Paris will mean there is a different mindset in the business community, with clients now seeing opportunity rather than being defensive over the issue.

“Until recently private sector involvement with COPs has focused on, ‘How might this damage my business?’ and ‘How can I make money out of the carbon markets?’” said London-based Tim Baines, Of Counsel at Norton Rose Fulbright who is attending the conference.

“This now appears to be changing dramatically, with a great deal of interest and enthusiasm about renewables in particular, how they can be rolled out and how they can best be financed,” Baines said.

The legal uncertainties over the continued, international debate about climate change issues has tired the business community according to Saines.

“The business community likes certainty,” he said. “We’re moving towards a low carbon economy in all corners of the global economy. Doing that with clarity will be helpful to businesses around the world.”

Lawyers Centerstage

Some lawyers also assisted in negotiation at the conference.

James Bacchus, Chair of Greenberg Traurig’s global practice,worked as an expert advisor to negotiators, and a delegate for the International Chamber of Commerce and noted a different approach at COP where there was work towards “pledges” relating to carbon emissions rather that imposing caps on the emissions produced by individual countries.  The resulting change in mindset created a different and more optimistic approach to the negotiations, he said.

According to Bacchus, there is no official compliance mechanism: the negotiations at COP 21 are about how to “promote transparency, monitoring, reporting, verification, and other ways of making certain that we know what countries have promised they will do.”

“Politically, we’ve reached a decision,” Bacchus said. “We’re not going to be able to come together as a world and agree that every country should cut their emissions by 5 percent next Tuesday, and others by 10 percent by next Wednesday. We’re not going to have that kind of top-down global agreement.”

Litigation, commercial opportunity, advisory work – the raft of new legal work to emerge from the climate change accord will fire up the beating heart of many law firms.

A new set of EPA regulations, the CPP is mainly directed at coal-fired power plants and designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly a third within 15 years and is being currently being challenged in federal court in Washington, D.C. by a number of business interests, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  The ongoing litigation is but one iceberg tip that will involve law firms going into the future.

Source: Bloomberg BNA

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