In February 2023, clientearthfiled a lawsuit against the board of directors of an environmental law charity, Shell Plc For the directors’ failure to take significant action to mitigate climate change. Specifically, ClientEarth wants Shell to move away from fossil fuels by 2050, in alignment with the Paris Agreement’s goal. Their argument is based on a relatively new legal principle, that corporate directors have a duty to prevent climate change. The business sector needs to follow this case closely because, if successful, it will redefine how businesses operate and open the door to litigation around the world.
The concept is relatively simple, while there are a few jumps. First, consider the traditional view of a director’s fiduciary duty. It is the duty of the directors of a company to maximize profits for the shareholders. It’s a rough generalization, but it serves the purpose. Second, acknowledge that climate change is an imminent threat to humanity. Not a concern or an inconvenience, but a serious threat, which without immediate action would be catastrophic. The risk that companies will not be able to make a profit due to the effects of climate change.
Therefore, for a corporate director to maximize long-term profit for his company, he must sacrifice short-term profit in favor of mitigating climate change. It is part of the wider environmental, social and governance (ESG) debate.
While ESG has existed in one form or another for decades, this legal principle did not actually exist until 2019. In 2015, two organizations under the United Nations, United Nations Environment Program Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) And this Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI)released a report titled “Fiduciary Duty in the 21st Century”, This document claimed that ESG could be considered as a factor by directors and fund managers, but only in certain jurisdictions.
In 2019, the organizations released an updated report that changed their tune. They moved away from the idea that ESG to be able It is believed that ESG Sure To be considered according to the above logic. The proposal heralded any necessary regulatory changes, simply by fitting environmental concerns into current definitions of fiduciary duty, saying climate change is a long-term threat to profits. This is the first case to test that theory.
Of course, this matter is in high court of england and wales, The United States does not have a court, but legal development does not operate on an island. If this case is successful, there will be many more. We may also see a similar US case while it works its way through the English legal process. If this theory becomes mainstream, it will sideline recent actions Securities and Exchange Commission, Department of Labor’s ERISA RuleCongressional response, and pending state actions.
The lack of regulations explicitly stating that climate change cannot be a factor in profit calculations, or studies refuting the threat to benefits from climate change, may not do much to counter this theory if It takes hold. Business as before will no longer be business as before. If ClientEarth can convince a court that an oil company should not be producing oil, all business models will have to change.
Credit: www.forbes.com /