Ahead of the G20 meeting this week in Pittsburgh, the Legal Sector Alliance has released a communique addressed to the leaders of the G20, calling for practical regulatory requirements – not hot air.

The Legal Sector Alliance is a group of law firms and organisations working together on climate issues under a set of core principles. Each member commits to measure and reduce its carbon footprint, but that is the easy part. The principles also encourage us to engage in the development of climate change law and policy, and to advise clients on opportunities and obligations arising from and under climate law. The 128 law firm members together represent over a quarter of the lawyers in private practice in England and Wales, and we hope that more will join us.

Of course, we are not scientists. But anyone who follows current affairs knows that there is a broad consensus among scientists and policy makers around the world that climate change is man-made, that it poses major economic, social and environmental risks, and that deep emissions cuts need to be made. Even so, we will have to adapt to temperature change – at least 2C and possibly 4C by the end of the century.

Disagreements, at least between governments, relate primarily to what solutions are needed, what short-term cuts should be imposed and who should pay. Negotiations will culminate in an intergovernmental meeting this December in Copenhagen, when an agreement is expected that will replace much of the Kyoto Protocol. Delivering these changes can only be done through law, and because of the encompassing nature of climate change, we are talking about a lot of new law.

It is in this context that the executive members of the alliance have released a communique addressed to the leaders of the G20. We are calling for high-level statements to be translated into practical regulatory requirements – without regulatory force any policy is just hot air. We are all now fixed with knowledge of the science, but we have insufficient regulation to drive reductions. Many of us have clients who are frustrated with how climate and energy policy has evolved thus far. Without a clear understanding of the structure with which they will have to comply, companies cannot invest at scale. Some working in low-carbon energy markets are struggling with regulatory regimes that are under almost annual review.

Building on this experience, we have suggested some core principles for future climate rules:Constructing a coherent set of new requirements in relation to such a complex problem is undoubtedly very challenging. We recognise this and our intention is not to criticise from the sidelines. We have expressed a willingness to contribute pro bono to the formulation of effective climate regulation. We hope this offer will be taken up and that other lawyers will join us in the initiative, both in the UK and beyond.

  • Regulation and its enforcement should be clear, proportionate and form part of a coherent, integrated regulatory and enforcement framework;
  • Existing legal and regulatory regimes should be reviewed and reformed to correct any failure to price or minimise carbon emissions, and to remove perverse incentives that, for example, may promote disproportionate investment in one technology at the expense of others;
  • Broadly consistent national and international rules are required to clarify rights and responsibilities associated with emissions reductions or sequestration;
  • Global product, industry and reporting standards are desirable;
  • Incentives for investment in and deployment of emerging technologies are needed to provide certainty to those businesses that take significant technology or commercial risk; and
  • Time-limited involvement of business in the development or piloting of climate regulation should be used to road-test ideas and build in a 'snagging' process.

Vanessa Havard-Williams is chair of the Legal Sector Alliance policy committee. www.legalsectoralliance.com