In 2015, a young man from Alaska, one of the regions of the world where global warming is most pressing, filed with 20 other activists a lawsuit against the United States government with which they hoped to force the country to cut its emissions of greenhouse gases. greenhouse effect. In January 2020, the US Court of Appeal dismissed the case.
Despite climate litigation on the rise and much of the battle against climate change will take place in court, the legal world is being singled out for contributing to exacerbating the climate crisis. Students from Harvard and Yale law schools, as well as other universities in the Ivy league (The academic elite in the US), have been focused all this year on targeting those firms that contribute the most to the climate crisis, either defending oil companies or pressing to prevent regulation against the problem.
Yale university students have come together to publish a report which reveals how prestigious law firms are contributing to the climate crisis. Analyzing the public databases that collect climate litigation between 2015 and 2019, they have detected that the firms listed in the Vault 100 ranking, the 100 best valued in the United States, worked 10 times more on cases involving the industry of the fossil energies than against it. They also bring to light that these firms press five times more in favor of gas and oil than in favor of renewables, and that they received 36.5 million dollars as compensation from polluting companies, while from renewables they took 6.8 million. On the other hand, they rate only four of the Vault 100 firms highly on climate: Cozen O’Connor; Shulte Roth & Zabel; Sheppard, Millin, Rcihter & Hampton and Wilson Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati.
“As lawyers we are not always neutral entities. Many times we can choose our clients and there are ethical standards that give us the opportunity not to represent a client for moral reasons,” explains Camila Bustos, one of the Yale law students at report charge. “We are not saying that these companies cannot have lawyers, but that they should not have on their side the most prestigious firms in Manhattan and the US,” he clarifies.
From the Law Students for Climate Accountability, the organization that this student has created together with her fellow faculty, they intend to promote a “global movement” that begins by ugliness to these multi-million dollar law firms that have defended “overwhelmingly” the gas industry and oil. “We have already been contacted by people from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada … Many of these firms have offices in London and other parts of the world and the litigation on the list is due in many cases to international projects”, assures Bustos.
For her, reversing the trend of the most powerful law firms representing these companies is a matter of social pressure. “You have to create a stigma, as was done with the tobacco industry.” For this reason, she stresses that the “social license” must be taken away from them to bring down what she calls the “legal leg of the fossil fuel table. “We have already seen a divestment campaign in the banking sector, another leg. When that campaign began, people laughed at the fact that it was criticized that, for example, pension funds had investments in the fossil industry, and now we see how large financial institutions, such as the European Investment Bank, are announcing the withdrawal. It is a matter of social change, “he insists.