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Green Practice: In the know on Garnaut

Every Issue

Cite as: (2008) 82(10) LIJ, p. 77

The emissions trading scheme (ETS) proposed by the Garnaut Climate Change Review Draft Report (Garnaut Report)1 will have limited direct impact on the day-to-day operation of legal practices. Indirectly, the scheme is likely to impact on operational and procurement expenditure of all business, including law firms.2

The Garnaut Report

The 548-page report, released on 4 July 2008, recommends the introduction of a broad-based ETS targeting which includes: stationary energy and transport; fugitive emissions from fuel production; industrial processes; waste; agriculture; and land use, land-use change and forestry. The proposed ETS would issue “permits” to emit greenhouse gases up to a certain limit. The release of these permits would then be progressively reduced to achieve the goals set by government – currently a 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050. The goal of creating a market for permits is to generate incentives to reduce emissions and reward innovation, which should generate more cost-effective emissions reductions than simply imposing a tax.

The Green Paper

The federal government released its response to the Garnaut Report on 16 July 2008. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Green Paper (Green Paper)3 adopted many of the recommendations of the Garnaut Report, but chose not to include forestry4 and agriculture in its proposed ETS. It acknowledged that: “There will be adjustment costs for businesses as they move to a low carbon economy. That is why the green paper outlines programs to assist these businesses in the transition period”.5

Impact on law firms

As noted above, the ETSs proposed in the Garnaut Report and the Green Paper are aimed at those industries that have been identified as direct emitters of greenhouse gases. And while some lawyers may produce a great deal of hot air from time to time, our profession is not a direct emitter of these gases. Therefore, the profession will not be directly affected by the proposed ETS.

But that doesn’t mean there will be no impact on our firms. While the government may be uncomfortable admitting it, the practical reality is that the producers of our electricity and other resources will face increased costs in purchasing permits and ensuring compliance with the ETS, and these costs will flow through to consumers, including legal practices.

To minimise the burden of these increased costs (and to ensure that we are creating our own green practices), we should begin to reduce our consumption of resources, especially from emissions-intensive sources.

Previous Green Practice columns have identified several resources that law firms can use to become more sustainable.6 In terms of reducing energy consumption, the Moreland Energy Foundation has produced several very useful resources for businesses that show how to become more efficient in terms of lighting, office equipment and appliances (see http://www.mefl.com.au/business/resources/#160). The Grow Me The Money campaign also has lots of resources to assist business in reducing energy use (see http://www.growmethemoney.com.au/HintsandTips).

Building managers, lawyers and support staff should all be taking practical steps to improve sustainability at work, whether the goal is to save money or save the environment. The commercial and economic consequences of the proposed ETS only increase the business case for doing so.


JAMES FARRELL is a lawyer at Corrs Chambers Westgarth and an LIV Young Lawyers’ Section (YLS) member. This column is coordinated by the YLS. For more information on the YLS, see http://www.liv.asn.au/members/sections/younglawyers.

1. Garnaut Climate Change Review, Draft Report (2008). Available online at http://www.garnautreview.org.au/CA25734E0016A131/pages/draft-report.

2. A separate consideration, not addressed in this column, is how the ETS will impact on the giving of legal advice.

3. Department of Climate Change, Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Green Paper (2008). Available online at http://www.climatechange.gov.au/greenpaper/index.html.

4. Businesses in the forestry sector will be able to “opt in” to the ETS.

5. Note 2 above, iv.

6. Such as Green Your Work at http://www.abc.net.au/greenatwork/GreenYourWork/default.htm and the Eco-Kit for Law Firms at http://www.lawyersforforests.asn.au/pdf/lff_forestfriendly_ecokit.pdf.

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