‘Growing concern’ over climate issues must be addressed by lawyers

Climate change will continue to be one of the top ethical challenges over the next 12 months, according to new research.

The Australian Institute of Governance recently released its annual Ethics Index, which showed Australia’s ethics plummeted in 2022, for the second consecutive year.

Last year, lawyers achieved a net ethics score of zero, marking a significant drop from the 2020 figure of +11. However, this year the net ethics score for lawyers rose to six, despite declining ethics scores in the majority of other professions.

Legal professionals across the country were perceived as “somewhat unethical” or “very unethical” by 41% of respondents, with 35% describing lawyers as “somewhat unethical” or “very unethical”.

At the time of the index’s release, Governance Institute chief executive Megan Motto said this year’s results were a “major concern”.

“During the first pandemic year, we were on a more precise trajectory. There was a strong all-in-one mentality. We have placed our trust in our governments and in the medical profession, and this has been amply rewarded. But we have seen a denouement since,” said Ms. Motto.

“And as the intensity of a crisis diminishes, we begin to question the answer. We see the other issues around us in the light of day, such as health advice versus politics, multiple scandals from business and government, workplace issues such as the return to the office and the ongoing “big resignation”, as well as growing concern over issues such as climate change.As we continue to go through the ‘new normal’, we seem to be a little less confident, more cynical and more divided.”

In addition to flexible working amid COVID-19climate change was also among the top ethical challenges for the next 12 months, with ensuring that climate change and environmental issues continue to receive attention and action being a priority for a third of respondents – the third highest ethical challenge. most urgent of the index.

In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Dr Phoebe Wynn-Pope (pictured), Business and Human Rights Manager at Corrs Chambers Westgarthsaid this issue is a “critical challenge”, both ethical and otherwise.

“The legal profession is taking a number of initiatives. As organizations transition, the legal advice they receive will be essential for an orderly transition to net zero, and lawyers are working together to achieve these goals,” she explained.

“There’s the Net Zero Lawyers Alliance which, among other things, engages lawyers to reduce their own emissions, provide advice aligned with net zero, and increase the pro bono time of projects to achieve climate goals.”

Additionally, the index found that despite growing concerns about climate change, the federal government and multinational corporations have the most pressing ethical obligations to act (84), while individuals register as having the weakest bond (80).

“Governments and all organizations have a huge obligation to address climate change. On the one hand, governments must set the policy and regulatory parameters to provide market certainty to ensure the change, R&D and investment needed for us to meet the Paris Agreement,” added Dr Wynn- Pope.

“On the other hand, multinationals and other companies need to consider the environmental and human capital costs of doing business – so that we can move to a sustainable future.”

Additionally, more than 40% of respondents said organizations have an urgent ethical obligation to take action on climate change, even if it reduces profits, results in job losses and leads to fewer jobs.

“Organizations have an obligation to deliver on behalf of their shareholders. In the past, short-termism meant that the environmental and human costs of operation were not always considered,” added Dr Wynn-Pope.

“Organizations that continue to operate without considering their impact on the environment, or even the impact of climate change on their operating model, will find it increasingly difficult to meet their fiduciary obligations.”

Teresa H. Sadler