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Oxford research finds financial sector unprepared for climate lawsuits

Research by the Oxford Sustainable Law Programme (SLP) found that investors and regulators have seriously overlooked the risk of potential climate lawsuits. In the near future, companies responsible for pollution and greenhouse gas emissions could be held legally liable for trillions in damages, but this is rarely accounted for in climate risk analyses.

Nearly 2,500 climate lawsuits seeking legal restitution for ecological damage perpetrated by businesses and organisations have been filed worldwide to date, with potentially serious consequences. For investors and regulators, this research presents a number of possible solutions investors and regulators might adopt to properly evaluate climate litigation risk.

SLP director and the study’s lead author Thom Wetzer told Cherwell: “The research is relevant to all investors, including the University of Oxford. I am not familiar with the details of the University’s investment process, let alone with their treatment of climate risk, so I cannot comment on specifics. I hope they read the article and thought, ‘we already do this!’”

In 2020, the University announced ambitious plans to divest from the fossil fuel sector wholesale, and to cut its emissions down to 50% by 2030 at the latest.

SLP, a joint venture by the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Law and Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, operates a multidisciplinary research centre that focuses on developing legal solutions for global sustainability challenges.
Wetzer told Cherwell: “Some of the problems we are investigating transcend individual disciplines. To study them, we draw on deep domain expertise in various areas and synthesise what we learn. People who can do that multidisciplinary work sit at the intersection of two or more fields. They can translate insights between these different fields of expertise and spot connections — that’s multidisciplinary research at its best. We need more recognition of that type of work in academia, and luckily for us Oxford is at the vanguard of that development.”

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