Lawyers and Climate Change


Lawyers and Climate Change

Over the past two years, two resolutions put forward by concerned lawyers, both confirming the systemic and devastating impacts of climate change and urging the profession to engage with this reality, have been defeated, one at the Canadian Bar Association national level in 2021 and the other at the Law Society of BC in 2022.

Proponents of each resolution argued that lawyers have a duty to consider the risks of climate change, which are as rapidly growing as they are wide-ranging, in properly advising their clients, and that such considerations are not merely “political.” 1 | 2 | 3

Despite outlining the disproportionate effects climate change is having in Canada (at least in terms of rates of warming) and the widespread impacts it is having across countless sectors (both nationally and on a global scale), the compelling arguments put forward in support of the said resolutions were not sufficient to sway enough of the profession to allow either of them to pass. Assuming most lawyers accept the scientific consensus on climate change and its causes, why has this not translated into the actions sought by the proponents of the cited resolutions?

Although it might not seem obvious, at first blush, how climate change might affect one’s legal practice, especially when that practice is not more directly linked to environmental issues, it is amazing how pervasive the impacts of climate change can, in fact, be.

Take my legal practice, for example, which is based entirely in human rights law. During the devastating heat dome we experienced in 2021 (something that was amplified by climate change and is thought to likely become a more common once-in-a-decade occurrence, according to at least one credible study), risk of death was associated with low socio-economic status, sex and age (according to another credible study).

The latter two factors are cited protected grounds under the BC Human Rights Code and the first factor is presently being strongly recommended to be added as a ground in the recently released landmark BC Human Rights Commission report “From Hate to Hope” on the rise of hate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet another study has linked extremely high temperatures to fueling online hate speech. The connections between climate change and its impacts on human rights become readily apparent when you dig just below the surface.

It also becomes apparent that to stay on top of my human rights practice I need to be up to speed on the issue of climate change and the ways in which it potentially affects my clients and their legal matters.

As Dr. Carol Liao persuasively stated in her article, “Just as we expect a family doctor to stay up-to-date on the latest pandemic, or a financial advisor to be aware of subprime mortgage risk, professionals are relied upon by the public to educate themselves on and respond to the latest crisis affecting their profession.”4

At CBABC, we strive to remain an indispensable resource in that worthy endeavour, as this latest BarTalk issue can attest.

  1. Article in CBA National entitled, The legal profession’s duty to respond to climate change by Meredith James, February 4, 2021 |

  2. Article in Law360 Canada entitled, Three reasons why lawyers should engage with climate change by Meredith James & Aladdin Diakun, February 16, 2021 |

  3. Article in The Tyee entitled, Lawyers Can’t Ignore Climate Change by Dr. Carol Liao, June 15, 2022 |

  4. Ibid. |