Don’t let President Trump and his environmental deconstruction team’s climate change denial and very real threat to decimate the Environmental Protection Agency deter you from the growing number of private sector opportunities to practice law in this area. While the new administration’s mantra is counter to the overwhelming scientific climate change consensus, the private sector is decidedly more realistic about both the potential environmental damage of a warming world and ensuing socio-economic disruption. The Obama administration’s Clean Power initiative and the recent Paris Agreement may be shelved, but those actions are being discounted by the private sector. The president and EPA Administrator’s alternate reality will not make the problem go away.
Companies throughout the economy cannot afford to politicize a peril that could potentially threaten their livelihoods and bottom lines. For example, the financial industry has no choice but to take climate change very seriously and incorporate assessments of its risks to their survival and continued thriving, as well as sending out probes to evaluate opportunities for them that climate change might present.
The Risk Side
Banks are beginning to incorporate climate change into their loan and investment due diligence. The silliness spewing from Washington, DC is irrelevant to business decisions that can turn on the implications of a warming planet and volatile weather events.
Financial institutions are also in the process of devising standardized approaches to their climate change risk assessments.
Banks have been engaged in environmental due diligence since the 1970s and long ago standardized this analysis. Climate change, however, is altering their focus from regulatory compliance and the potential costs of remediation to the socio-economic implications of a warming planet. This is expanding the scope of their due diligence efforts.
Some of the largest banks (e.g., Bank of America, Citi, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo) have adopted specific “carbon principles,” committing them to consider greenhouse gases and the potential impact of government climate policies when determining whether to finance fossil fuel projects. JP Morgan Chase did this with respect to more than 1,500 projects in 2015.
In order to intelligently evaluate risks and factor them into lending and other business decisions, financial services companies need the services of experts. That includes environmental attorneys and lawyers who can contribute to this kind of specialized due diligence.
The Opportunity Side
Here is where the “creative” component of political economist Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” refrain comes into play.
The financial industry is incredibly “agile” with respect to new product development. The array of complex financial instruments that marked the run-up to the Great Recession is proof positive of that. Consequently, they know that every risk is accompanied by opportunity. Climate change fits neatly into this equation. To date, this is translating into the allocation of increasing amounts of capital toward renewable and alternative energy projects, energy efficiency initiatives, and projects such as carbon capture that promise a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Needless to say, there is a lot of law mixed up in the evaluation of such projects and potential investments, and attorneys are needed who can apply their legal expertise to these opportunities.