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Countdown to Copenhagen for young climate change lawyer

Countdown to Copenhagen for young climate change lawyer

Climate change is a corporate issue that will impact on everyone's bottom line, believes young Melbourne climate change lawyer Renee Garner, who, at 27, has already co-authored a book on the…

Climate change is a corporate issue that will impact on everyone's bottom line, believes young Melbourne climate change lawyer Renee Garner, who, at 27, has already co-authored a book on the subject. Now she's off to Copenhagen for one of the world's most important gatherings.

OFF TO COPENHAGEN: Freehills lawyer Renee Garner
Regardless of its outcome and the decisions of world leaders, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen will seriously impact on the planet's environmental future, and there to witness proceedings will be Melbourne-based lawyer Renee Garner.

The conference, to be held between December 7 and 18, will guide Australia's responses to global warming, with dramatic impact on every aspect of federal, state and local laws which are set to constantly evolve and conform with new realities.

In the vanguard of this process is Garner, a solicitor at Freehills and a member of its national climate change group, who a year ago co-authored the first textbook published in Australia on the legal and policy aspects of climate change. The book, Global Climate Change: Australian Law and Policy (released in September last year by LexisNexis, publisher of Lawyers Weekly), was a joint effort with David Hodgkinson, special counsel at Clayton Utz and executive director of EcoCarbon Inc, which provides advice and training on environmental issues.

One month before embarking for Copenhagen, Garner commented: "The real joy of working as a corporate lawyer in this area, and writing as an academic, is that this space is constantly changing and it is essential that you have a firm grip on the foundations and drivers behind the issues."

At the time of the book's release, Freehills highlighted the importance of environmental issues by hosting book launches at all its national offices, with a special guest speaker at each.

In Garner's Melbourne office, the book was launched by David Karoly, a professor in the department of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne, a climatologist who has written extensively on global warming and is a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists (which also deals with issues such as land, water and biodiversity).

“The shift to a green economy is inevitable and provides every practice group within the firm with challenges and opportunities”

The book has also found its way beyond the legal fraternity to people across industry and local government, many of whom, according to Garner, "have referred to it at some point, which is great".

"Many of Freehills' clients have copies of the book, and I have had feedback that is a useful tool for in-house counsel," she says.

At the various book launches, Garner emphasised that "climate change is not just an environmental issue, it's a corporate issue" and that "in some form or another, climate change will affect everyone and everything - from a company's bottom line to its brand".

Copenhagen is the latest watershed in moving Australia towards a green economy and Garner says the firm's emphasis is on moving its partners and lawyers to recognise the sea change.

"The shift to a green economy is inevitable and provides every practice group within the firm with challenges and opportunities," she says.

Garner, 27, has advised on a number of deals, including AGL's project financing of the Hallett wind farm, International Power's development of the Mt Mercer wind farm and ERM Power's Stage 2 development of the Braemar ga-sfired power station in Queensland.

Since the release of Garner's book, Freehills has represented a range of companies on several matters connected with climate change and has expanded its environmental work.

As part of this expansion it recruited as a partner Peter Briggs, an expert on climate issues who had spent 10 years practising environment and planning law at Clayton Utz.

Clients are now more actively addressing strategic issues connected to the green economy, says Garner, who defines the new reality as "about doing business as they always have, only against a different economic backdrop".

If a week is a long time in politics, a year represents an unravelling and reconfiguration of the warps and wefts of environmental priorities, therefore some of the authors' observations in 2008 have been overtaken by events, but they

regard its contents more as a philosophical framework than a snapshot of trends.

Garner believes the main change has occurred because of political uncertainty (to be resolved only after Copenhagen) surrounding the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which the Rudd Government is committed to introduce by 2011 as the primary mechanism for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"There has also been Commonwealth and state legislation passed with respect of the regulation of offshore and onshore carbon capture and storage which has happened since the book's release," she says.

"But, in terms of theory, I think the book is still very useful. For example, the book sets out theories such as what emissions trading is and what the difference is between, say, a 'baseline-and-credit' scheme and a 'cap-and-trade' scheme.

"The book documents policy and legal frameworks that underpin international and domestic efforts to curb climate change, which, in my personal opinion, should be universally accessible, not just to business and government - especially as the climate we exist in and the air we breathe will impact on everyone's future.

"A welter of legislative reform is in the pipeline in all Australian jurisdictions; for example, the NSW Government is seeking to address the problem of rising sea levels, and a report has been released indicating the need to revise every aspect of how decisions are made around coastal areas," she explains.

"This is big new news as a significant part of the country is around the waterfront," Garner says. "We predict that a legislative framework will arise to this end; if it doesn't then this is where we see climate litigation going and decisionmakers could be exposed to liability.

"This is a complex question, but the point remains: doing nothing is not an option."

At core, the past year has been a preparatory phase for the post-Copenhagen era, which, at last, has the potential to introduce some degree of certainty and stability into a complex legal scene.

"There is little doubt that uncertainty has been the overarching theme for some time now," Garner says.

"The delay of any domestic or international action has significantly cost the Australian economy through delayed investment in the electricity sector, for example, and lack of investment in emerging areas such as solar and other renewables."

Garner and an increasing number of lawyers across the land have had caseloads aplenty linked to environmental matters, but nothing will really start until the fat lady has finished singing in Denmark.

Countdown to Copenhagen

For almost two weeks it will be a full calendar and non-stop activity in Copenhagen, where Australian lawyer and author Renee Garner will be alongside some of the world's heaviest hitters on the environmental scene.

Garner is attending the UN conference as an associate delegate of both the Asia-Pacific Emissions Trading Forum and the Australian Clean Energy Council. The CEC, with more than 300 member companies throughout Australian industry, has a mandate to develop and advocate policies to accelerate the deployment of alternative power.

Apart from following the action of the main conference at the cavernous Bella convention centre, Garner will participate in seminars running parallel with the main event and in activities hosted by the Australian Government and other international organisations, as well as being at daily briefings.

Above all, she will be networking with representatives of some of Freehills' key corporate clients and meeting participants from big international environmental organisations, including delegates from organisations involved in energy and renewables.

Garner will be staying in an apartment because hotels in Copenhagen were booked out come time ago, with some conference observers needing to commute every day from Sweden.

Her flatmate will be fellow Australian Dominique La Fontaine, the ex-CEO of the CEC and a principal consultant for climate change strategy at professional services company Pitt&Sherry.

- Michael Pollack

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