In October 2018 the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, which provided a sobering update on the state of the environment. According to the report, “unprecedented changes” are needed to achieve the target of keeping global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C, after which the risk of extreme weather conditions – such as droughts, floods and forest fires – will significantly increase.

It’s not all bad news though. In need of hope, I turned to Lexology to see how lawmakers are responding to global calls for action and found that many countries are taking positive steps in this regard. Here are five recent developments from around the world which may actually help to mitigate the risks of climate change.

1. US Green New Deal

As the second highest emitter of carbon dioxide after China, many of us have a vested interest in what action the United States takes to mitigate global warming. One positive step in this regard may be Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, the outline for which was made public on 7 February 2019. According to Bergeson & Campbell PC, the policy package aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the transformation of the US economy. Among other things, the deal calls for:

  • a transition to 100% renewable energy;
  • investment in infrastructure and industry; and
  • a commitment to clean air and a sustainable environment.

Of course, the proposed package is just that – a proposal. As Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP has pointed out, Cortez’s deal calls for action on issues well beyond the environment, and broad proposals such as these often struggle to attract sufficient consensus to gain approval.

2. The end of Australian coal mines?

On 8 February 2019 the New South Wales Land and Environment Court issued a landmark decision which some – such as Baker McKenzie – have speculated may signal the end of new coal mines in the state. In its decision, the court rejected an application to develop an open cut mine in the Gloucester Valley based on the impact that it would have on both climate change and the community. According to Johnson Winter & Slattery, this is the first time that an Australian court has refused an application based on greenhouse gas emissions and the associated impact on climate change. Thus, as Maddocks points out, it opens the door for future objectors to raise climate change effects as a reason to refuse consent for projects.

3. Increase in sustainable goods

The fashion industry has long since come under fire for its contribution to global warming. Just last week protestors took to the London streets to campaign against the levels of waste and pollution created by the industry. However, change may be afoot. DLA Piper recently provided an interesting overview of how major fashion brands are responding to consumer calls for sustainability and ethical manufacturing. For example, in 2017 the Green Carpet Fashion Awards were established to celebrate the commitment of luxury fashion houses to sustainability. In addition, Victoria Beckham recently announced that she would stop using exotic leather and adidas has pledged to use only recycled plastic by 2024.

Commercially, brands would be wise to listen to consumer demands for ethical fashion. According to Fox Williams LLP, the total global market for sustainable goods was estimated to be €2.5 trillion in 2017, which looks set to grow. Further, more than one-quarter of UK consumers avoided a product or service in 2018 because of its negative social or environmental impact.

4. Changing food industry

Consumer ethics are also driving change in the food industry, with many individuals now opting for a meat and dairy-free diet in order to reduce their environmental impact. Thankfully, Slaughter and May has highlighted that new technologies (eg, point-of-origin tags) are emerging, which should make it easier for consumers to determine whether certain foods are contributing to environmental degradation.

Further, on 16 January 2019 the EAT-Lancet commission published its groundbreaking report on sustainable food systems, which aims to revolutionise the human diet in order to help meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. According to Baker McKenzie, if implemented, the report is expected to influence supply chains and will have a significant impact on not only consumer behaviour, but also the regulation of food producers.

5. War on plastic

As well as having harmful effects for marine life and soil quality, scientists now believe that plastic may be contributing to global warming – during both its production (which requires the burning of fossil fuels) and its degradation (when it releases methane and ethylene). Fortunately, steps are being taken to mitigate the disastrous effects that plastic is having on the environment. For example, Kilburn & Strode LLP recently reported on the launch of the EU Strategy for Plastics, which aims to revolutionise the design, use, production and recyclability of plastics and help the European Union to use resources in a more sustainable way.

Here in the United Kingdom, the government recently proposed four initiatives to reduce single-use plastic (as reported on by Gowling WLG):

  • a new tax on plastic packaging manufactured in the United Kingdom, or imported (unfilled) into the United Kingdom, with less than 30% recycled content;
  • a new deposit return scheme for drinks containers;
  • a revamped packaging producer responsibility system; and
  • enhanced recycling rules for consumers.

Globally, we still have a long way to go to achieve the Paris Agreement’s target of a maximum global temperature increase of 2°C (which the United Nations now argues is too high). However, there have been some positive developments in the legal space in recent months which should hopefully help to drive meaningful change.