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Seminar in Corporate Law: Climate Change & Corporate Accountability

L690 is taught by C. Williams

Climate change touches on so many aspects of legal practice that it has become a new, rapidly emerging field of law. Almost every major law firm in the U.S. is adding capacity to advise companies on climate change and its business implications, to address voluntary and required climate and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure, and to represent companies in litigation. Conversely, an emerging global network of NGOs and public-interest law firms is using corporate and securities law to motivate changes in companies behavior regarding climate change, collaborating with activist investors to use advocacy tools such as shareholder proposals, through to regulatory complaints, litigation, and books and records requests. As the impacts of climate change increasingly disrupt business, as policymakers and markets respond to accelerate the transition to a net zero emissions economy, the field of law is only going to grow in importance. On March 21, 2022, the SEC proposed new disclosure requirements for climate and ESG data. And data on climate litigation to date show that at least 1,550 cases involving climate change have been brought globally as of the end of 2020. Of these, 1,200 have been brought in the U.S.

In this seminar, we will survey this emerging field, concentrating on studying (1) the evidence of climate change as a financially material risk; (2) analysis of the categories of climate change cases being brought in litigation in the U.S. and globally; (3) the SEC#s climate disclosure initiative, and (4) specific corporate and trust law analyses under existing law that suggest considering climate change is part of officers,# directors,# and pension fund trustees# fiduciary obligations regarding strategy, risk management oversight, portfolio construction, and engagement. See the Commonwealth Climate and Law Initiative (CCLI), a project started at Oxford University, (link) , which Prof. Williams participates in globally, in the U.S. and in Canada, and on whose board she sits.

This seminar will be taught during the first six-weeks of the Fall semester. A number of guest speakers will participate from CCLI, and from the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI), a London-based charity that is developing voluntary standards for the use of proceeds for bonds to fund the transition to a net-zero economy.


Class participation: 10%. Attending regularly and participating based on reading and thinking about the reading will constitute excellent participation.

Paper: 90%. The paper for the seminar will qualify for upper-level writing credit for the J.D. students. I am happy to brainstorm with students about possible topics, if you get stuck, and also happy to discuss your topic with you to suggest sources and so forth even if you are not stuck.