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Environmental justice scholar Lisa Benjamin discusses corporate social responsibility, climate litigation

Lewis & Clark Law School Assistant Professor of Law Lisa Benjamin was the latest speaker in the Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center's Marie Sklodowska-Curie Transition Law and Governance webinar series.

Lewis & Clark Law School Assistant Professor of Law Lisa Benjamin was the latest speaker in the Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center's Marie Sklodowska-Curie Transition Law and Governance webinar series.

June 22, 2021 - Professor Lisa Benjamin of the Lewis & Clark Law School described the need for an international approach to climate change, as businesses across the world are often more responsible for carbon emissions than states during a webinar last week held by University of Houston Law Center's Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center. The presentation was part of the Energy Transition and Governance series, sponsored by the European Union through its Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant and the efforts of UH EENR Fellow (and Universite de Lyon III professor) Aubin Nzaou.

Benjamin’s presentation centered on evolving corporate climate liability and the recent developments in Europe and the U.S., as well as what they mean for corporate governance. She provided an overview of corporate social responsibility, and how it influences the actions and perceptions of companies. She said since the 1970s, social responsibility was understood as a way to make profits. It has also been the main mechanism that companies use to push back on criticism. Benjamin examined the importance of corporate social responsibility through the lenses of economic, social and regulatory license.

“Investors have become much more informed and aware of the risk of climate change,” she said.

As far as recent developments in the U.S., Benjamin said there’s been a slew of corporate climate litigation brought on predominantly by states and cities for adaptation costs. She said it hasn’t gone very far yet, and the U.S. Supreme Court largely does not seek to be involved in such cases. With the new Biden administration, climate change has become a top priority and a “whole of government” approach to climate-related financial risk is being developed.

In the U.K., litigation hasn’t been as successful but is developing. Parliament also enacted the Climate Change Act 2008 in an effort to significantly reduce greenhouse gases. In Europe as a whole, Benjamin said it has been far ahead of the U.S. in developing a disclosure regime. Another major development was the Paris Agreement, an international treaty to combat climate change. She also cited well-known climate litigation cases, including Okpabi v. Shell, Luciano Lliuya v. RWE AG and Royal Dutch Shell v. Milieudefensie.

As far as what this means for the future, Benjamin said there will be greater investor pressure for social responsibility, the public will become more concerned, there will be mandatory disclosure regimes and increased potential for litigation.

“Companies have to pay attention to the social license to operate, not just economic,” she said.

“We are going to see evolving targets.”

Benjamin specializes in international climate change, environmental justice, energy resources in regards to law and policy and administrative law. She completed her doctorate degree at the University of Leicester in 2017 and received the Doctoral Honors Award in 2018.

The next speaker in the series is Professor Tibisay Morgand of the Queen Mary University of London, School of Law, who will deliver her remarks at 10 a.m. on Oct. 28.

Prior speakers in the webinar series are Professor Rebecca Bratspies of the City University of New York School of Law, Professor Uma Outka of the University of Kansas School of Law, Professor Joshua Galperin of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Professor Alexandra Klass of University of Minnesota Law School, Professor Lee Paddock of the George Washington University School of Law and Professor Roy Partain of the University of Aberdeen School of Law.

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