The Legal 500 Green Guide: United Kingdom 2024

United Kingdom 2024

Market overview

Welcome to the United Kingdom Green Guide 2024 

Unlike the EU, the UK still lacks any specific ESG laws or regulations and there is widespread concern over the lack of leadership on climate action in government.  

The UK Green Taxonomy, which was due to be finalised at the start of 2023 has faced continued delays with no new deadline confirmed. The proposed Taxonomy has also been heavily scrutinised over reports it could classify natural gas as environmentally friendly. We furthermore await the UK Sustainability Disclosure Standards (SDS) expected by July 2024. 

Despite the absence of hard law, ESG is now a top board-level priority across all sectors with clients from pharmaceuticals to real estate requiring increasingly specialist advice. Furthermore, EU reporting directives only continue to ramp up, with the addition of enhanced climate disclosures in January 2024 which will require businesses to disclose their scope 3 emissions – implicating UK-based businesses situated within EU supply chains too.

UK law firms are also recognising their position in their clients’ supply chains as many embark on their net zero journeys. Beyond this, 2023 saw more lawyers acknowledging the advised emissions associated with their practice. More than 120 lawyers signed the ‘Declaration of Conscience’, refusing to act in the interests of new fossil fuel projects or prosecute peaceful climate protestors.  

Greenwashing remains high on the agenda and accurate data is more important than ever as the Advertising Standards Authority clamps down on terminology used in marketing. Other areas including biodiversity continue to gain traction too. 

In keeping with European trends, UK climate and environmental litigation are on the rise with citizens and NGO groups challenging the government on its inadequacy in dealing with the existential threat of the climate and ecological crisis. Concerns over the UK government falling behind on its climate commitments are legitimised by its granting hundreds of new oil and gas licenses to purportedly address energy security issues. 

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has catapulted the issue of energy security to the top of the agenda as governments worldwide push for homegrown power. In the UK, investment in North Sea oil and gas is also accompanied by expansion of its renewable capacity – June 2023 saw a record high of UK electricity being generated by renewables. Low-carbon solutions such as hydrogen are being championed as key to the country’s green revolution and will require legal support at all stages of roll-out. 

Furthermore, many law firms are realising the competitive advantage of cross-practice ESG expertise; clients are increasingly drawn to multi-disciplinary teams with the ability to offer a ‘one-stop-shop’ solution to their ESG issues. 

We hope you find this guide to some of the key firms engaging with sustainability within the UK useful, and we look forward to continually evolving our coverage as the market develops. 

Anna Baubock
Anna Bauböck | Editor
Olivia Hart | Senior researcher