Australia — It is expecting to have a heavy workload, testing out new government regulations likely to be introduced to deal with global warming.
Melbourne barrister Adrian Finanzio says, like it or not, climate change and lawyers have a lot in common.
“Any attempt to address climate change will necessarily involve legislative and regulatory change and that is the province of lawyers, both as advisers but also as advocates,” he said.
Mr Finanzio is part of what he believes is an Australian first – a formal group for barristers who want to specialise in climate change.
Fellow barrister Jane Treleaven says as the climate change debate goes on in public, the science will inevitably come up in the courtroom.
“Cases which examine the possible consequences of climate change will no doubt involve a debate which is founded on the science of climate change and what impacts it may or may not have,” she said.
Mr Finanzio says development in low-lying coastal areas is already shaping up as a legal issue and it is one which is expected to generate more work for lawyers.
“That is just one example of the way in which changes to the environment may produce changes to the regulatory regime and those changes may have an impact on ordinary people who own land in that kind of situation,” he said.
Ms Treleaven says another example has received attention at the Bushfires Royal Commission.
“There are some projections about the impact that climate change may or may not have on the intensity of bushfires in the future,” she said.
“So we may also see regulatory change in that regard, planning and rezoning of areas which may then be impacted by increased bushfire risk.”
Mr Finanzio will not speculate on who could be blamed for climate change in the future but that question could form the basis for some major legal challenges.
Mr Finanzio points to a case in the US where a state is suing a power company.
“[It is] premised on the power company expelling carbon into the atmosphere causing a nuisance by virtue of its contribution to global warming,” he said.
“I think we can expect to see that kind of litigation. We’ve seen much of it in different fields over the last 10 or 15 years. That is one type of litigation in which members of this bar may become involved [in] on a pro bono basis or on a basis that is fee reduced.”
But he is keen to emphasise the barristers on the panel are not a bunch of activists.
“We will not, as barristers, be simply conduits for antagonists who wish to take on the industry and so on. That is not the object,” he said.
The Victorian Bar’s climate change panel will be launched next week.