In the next in my series of blogs on climate change and its potential forward impact on property transactions, I turn now to perhaps THE critical question. Do property lawyers and conveyancers need to consider climate in the transaction above standard environmental risk data. And given that climate data is now available, some of the risks if they don’t at least point to it as part of the Report on Title.

1. Introduction 

Climate change is already impacting the UK’s land and buildings, making our wetter months even wetter and our drier months  even drier. This puts millions of UK properties at serious risk of subsidence from drier conditions and at increased risk of flooding from wetter conditions.

We only have to look at – and think hard about – the numbers of UK properties predicted to be at risk from our rapidly changing climate. Groundsure, the UK’s leading environmental data authority, have provided this window on the future:





COASTAL EROSION10,80042,00098,000

2. Lenders and Insurers

In May 2022 the Bank of England completed a ‘climate stress test’ on the UK’s leading banks and insurers. If they fail to manage climate risk they face the risk of very significant financial impacts by 2050:

Lenders are already developing processes and procedures to reduce their climate exposure, e.g.  screening UK homes for long-term climate risk to see if they wish to provide mortgages. As Rob Stevens, Head of Property Risk at Nationwide Building Society, says ‘climate risk is the biggest challenge facing lenders over the next 10-15 years’.   (1)

For Insurers, climate risk is both a long term risk to insurer solvency and a huge opportunity for insurers and other capital providers to bring new climate risk transfer products to the market. 

Lenders and insurers (property insurers and PI insurers) will inevitably exert influence on property lawyers to ensure that these risks are considered during the conveyancing process. This opens up the question as to whether property (and other) lawyers owe their clients a duty to advise them about climate risk. 

3. The Case for The Duty to Advise Clients about Climate Risk

There is no reported case of a solicitor being found negligent for failing to advise a homeowner, property developer or lender about climate risk. It does NOT follow that solicitors do not have a climate duty of care.  

The three factors that judges evaluate when deciding if a duty of care exists were set out by Lord Steyn in The Nicholas H case: 

Applying these tests to climate risk, we can see that the close proximity of the relationship between a lawyer and the client is self-evident. 

Proving causation is often challenging. However, the latest climate risk data shows predicted climate impacts on specific, individual properties in an easy to understand format – e.g., Groundsure’s Climate Index. Using this data, it can be argued that but for rapidly increasing global temperatures brought about by greenhouse gas emissions, the physical impacts to a particular property (e.g., subsidence, coastal erosion, overheating of the building) would not have occurred. 

Consequently, the main arguments as to whether or not a duty of care applies in respect of climate may rest on the ‘fair, just and reasonable’ test and the particular circumstances of the case. The following factors may be weighed in the balance when making this assessment: 

Growing awareness of climate risk in the UK: 

Likelihood and scale of climate risk:

Response of professional bodies and legal commentators: 

Availability of tools to explain climate risk impacts on specific properties

These considerations are likely to convince judges that it would be ‘fair, just and reasonable’ to extend the duty of care which lawyers owe to clients to include a duty to advise them about climate risk. 

Property lawyers should proceed on the basis that they owe their clients a duty of care to advise them about climate risk and its legal implications. 

Indeed, there is even an argument that this duty started some time ago, perhaps in 2019 when the UK Government declared a climate emergency – but clearly also when The Chancery Lane Project provided clauses for climate risk advice from 2020.

4. How do Solicitors discharge their duty to ADVISE clients about climate risk? 

As a recent Court of Appeal about planning data shows, a non-negligent solicitor would have included within their Report on Title to their client:

“a summary of the purpose of the [climate risk data], followed by a summary of the results [of the data], coupled with a short description of what further information could be obtained if it was required and a request for instructions as to how the recipient of the [data] wished the solicitor concerned to proceed”. (3)

Property lawyers will note that simply commissioning data in an environmental report and forwarding it to the client without any explanation or commentary is insufficient to discharge the duty of care. 

It is to be expected that the Law Society’s Climate Risk Practice Note will, in due course, set out the steps that solicitors should take when climate data identifies a property at significant risk of being impacted by climate risk, such as:  

5. Summary 

The risks to which UK land and buildings are exposed are increasing due to the climate crisis. 

This will have real and significant repercussions for millions property owners across the UK over the next few decades as the climate impact models are showing. 

Lawyers are not environmental or climate scientists, but that does not mean that clients should be left high and dry to draw their own conclusions about these risks. 

There is a growing body of opinion that solicitors have a professional duty of care to advise clients about climate risk. 

In light of this, prudent lawyers will follow the Law Society’s exhortation in its Climate Resolution 2021 to become better informed about climate risk and to make good use of climate data now that it is available. 

Stephen Sykes, Solicitor, LL.B, MA Environmental Law, 

Environmental Lawyer 

Capital Law Limited 


  1. Bold Legal Group Summer Conference, London, June 28th, 2022.
  2.  See: Marc Rich & Co. A.G. v. Bishop Rock Marine Co. Ltd., also known as The Nicholas H. [1995] 3 All ER 307.