Corporate Responsibility and Liability in relation to Climate Change

The Utrecht Centre for Accountability and Liability Law will host an international conference on the responsibility and liability of corporate actors in relation to climate change on the 19th and 20th of May 2022.

In this conference we aim to :

  1. address developments in specific areas of the law within the context of corporate responsibility and liability related to climate change,
  2. analyse the possibilities and boundaries of these corporate responsibilities and liabilities, and
  3. explore potential further developments in the relevant areas of law.

Corporate actors

Responsibilities and liabilities of corporate actors in the context of climate change are drawing more and more attention, both in legal scholarship and legal practice. Advances in climate sciences make it increasingly possible to specify the contribution(s) of corporations to climate change, and to identify specific mitigation and/or adaptation measures corporations can take. There is also growing awareness amongst practitioners and scholars that corporate actors have an important role to play in dealing with climate change, and that they have legal obligations in that regard.

Many questions on content, scope, enforcement

A failure to respect such obligations could lead to civil law, criminal law, administrative law or corporate law sanctions. Conversely, the effects of climate change might also negatively impact business practices and shareholder interests, and corporations might thus have legal obligations to prevent such negative impacts too. Yet, it is unclear when, how and to what extent these climate change related responsibilities and liabilities do exist and can actually be enforced. In other words: there are many questions about the content, scope, nature, purpose and enforcement of corporate responsibilities and liabilities, which to a great extent remain unanswered.

Domestic courts and global governance issues

For example, questions arise in relation to corporate obligations to cut greenhouse gas emissions, implement adaptation strategies, invest responsibly, warn the public about climate risks posed by products and services, and mitigate financial risks that climate change poses to a business. Other questions concern the legal enforcement of soft law, standards from international climate agreements and human rights treaties. Further, one could think of issues relating to the contribution of domestic courts to global governance issues like climate change and cross-border enforcement of judicial rulings on climate change.

In terms of accountability and liability, one can furthermore look at the liabilities of directors, the possibilities of shareholders to force a company towards a more sustainable course, financial law and criminal obligations to prevent greenwashing, the role of criminal law more generally in addressing pollution and climate change, potential civil liabilities for climate change related harms, the possibility to insure such liabilities and the commodification of climate-related risks. Such questions can lastly arise in relation to a wide range of sectors and companies, such as energy companies, aviation, travel companies, insurers, financial institutions, investments funds, pension funds, oil companies, construction companies and the chemical industry.

Additional information: https://www.uu.nl/agenda/corporate-responsibility-and-liability-in-relation-to-climate-changehttps://www.uu.nl/en/research/utrecht-centre-for-accountability-and-liability-law-ucall