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Climate change lawyers divided on new legislation

Climate change lawyers divided on new legislation

A strict new carbon reduction scheme is predicted to create a host of new work for climate change lawyers.

A STRICT new carbon reduction scheme is predicted to create a host of new work for climate change and environment lawyers. 

“The legislation will definitely step up the opportunities for advisory work over the next year and even beyond the scheme’s immediate introduction,” said Andrew Bruton, energy and resources partner at TressCox. “I think this is a real opportunity.” 

The Carbon Reduction Scheme Bill 2009, expected to be passed this year, is the first in a string of upcoming legislation designed to enact Australia’s obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention and the Kyoto Protocol. The legislation now hangs on the pending outcome of the Senate committee enquiry into the current draft and, if passed, is expected to come into affect mid 2010.

The detailed system will not affect all businesses but some will have significant obligations. Bruton told The New Lawyer that between 1,000 to 1,500 businesses will have to make real changes. 

“The people who are really going to be affected by this have been preparing for some time, especially the big businesses. But from the legal side of things, between now and the 1 July 2010 there will be a significant increase in the amount of advisory work around," he said. 

“Businesses are going to want to know, for example, if they are able to pass the cost of the scheme on to their clients and that’s where we come in.”And all this means more work for climate change lawyers. 

However, Nicholas Brunton, who heads the climate change practice at Henry Davis York, predicts the initial buzz of work will not last long. Brunton believes there is some wishful thinking going on around the new system.

“I’m of the opinion that to understand the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme you don’t need a lot of legal advice, you need a lot of economic advice and, while it is complex, it’s not rocket science,” he said.

“Definitely in the first year or two of the scheme there will be a fair bit of work in climate change law but it will inevitably start to taper off. Not unlike what happened with the GST when everyone got used to the system quite quickly.”

The introduction of the Carbon Reduction Scheme comes as the global economic downturn is still worsening. This may affect how businesses and even the government receive the changes, the lawyers interviewed agreed.Evan Economo, senior associate at Gadens Lawyers and a climate change specialist, said it is not necessarily a bad time to be creating the pseudo stock exchange that would result from the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

“I think the contrary view is that the [global financial crisis] is a great time to start the trading scheme mainly because it will create a lot of jobs in the long-term,” he told The New Lawyer.But Andrew Bruton said the government may be too focused on the economy in order to expedite implementing the bill. 

“I expected that the government might have tried to use the problems in the economy to lay a case for delaying the bill,” he said.

“I don’t see it impacting on the timing of the legislation being passed but whether or not they delay the commencement date is another thing.” The scheme is currently expected to begin on 1 July 2010.

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