Herbert Geer is one of four organisations to team up to form a new climate change consultancy group.
Herbert Geer has joined ranks with accountancy firm BDO Kendalls, the University of Queensland's commercialisation company Uniquest and environmental resource development consultancy AARC to form Equator Alliance. Equartor Alliance aims to assist companies with every stage of the emissions sustainability lifecycle, including forecasting, managing and complying with all legislative, business and consumer demands related to climate change.
According to Herbert Geer partner Simon Harrison, the legal risks facing companies related to climate change concerns are mounting. For example, he pointed to intergenerational liability claims - claims related to potential harm done to future generations - as a growing international trend which could open the floodgates to class actions against mining, infrastructure and transport companies.
"Until recently, companies could only be held liability for a direct negative impact they may have had on an individual or organisation. However, under intergenerational liability claims, potential class actions that do not involve immediate injuries being suffered, but instead relate to future injuries by someone who has not even been born yet, could now in theory be brought against companies," he said.
He added that court cases involving intergenerational liability have been appearing in Australia for the past three years. He noted the NSW Land and Environment Court's decision in Gray v The Minister for Planning and Ors  NSWLEC 720, whiere it was held that environmental assessment of a new coal mine was required to assess the future impacts of burning mined coal from a climate change perspective. The court held that principals such as intergeneration equity had to be considered when assessing the new mine.
BDO Kendalls partner Dylan Byrne added that many companies were still struggling to understand and manage their obligations to measure and report energy use and emissions under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007.
"Many mining and other high energy users still need to establish the necessary procedures to measure and report emissions and energy usage," he said.
He said companies needed to adopt a holistic, or systems, approach to identify and manage the impacts of carbon emissions, trading and sustainability, while also making the most of potential carbon trading opportunities.
"By reducing emissions now, via carbon offsets, abatements or operational improvements, businesses can benefit from lower compliance costs and maximise economic and environmental gains," he said.
- Zoe Lyon