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Life as a lawyer: Meet climate law and policy specialist Thea Philip

While a law degree was historically a one-way ticket to life as a solicitor or barrister, modern career paths are much more varied. There’s an ever-increasing demand for legal knowledge in a whole host of sectors, so it’s no wonder that more legal professionals are branching out to work beyond the scope of traditional positions. Regardless of which path you choose, a law degree is undoubtedly a solid foundation for long-term success.

Since completing the Bachelor of Laws / Bachelor of Arts at Bond, Thea Philip has forged an impressive career in environmental and climate law and policy. She has undertaken an extensive array of international internships and legal positions, which ultimately led her to pursue her Master of Philosophy in Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge, and to take on her current position in London as Associate at climate change advisory and investment firm Pollination.

In the latest instalment of our Life as a lawyer series, we spoke to Thea about her experience studying law at Bond, her career so far, and her advice for anyone wanting to pursue environmental and climate law.

What is a highlight from your time at Bond?

The international opportunities I was able to take part in were, by far, the highlight of my time at Bond. I was very fortunate to spend around a third of my degree overseas, making the most of Bond’s fantastic internship and exchange opportunities. In my second year, I spent six months in Norway on a study abroad exchange, and in my final year, I was fortunate enough to receive financial support from the University to undertake two international internships across two semesters.

My experiences as an intern at the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, D.C. and at the International Energy Agency in Paris enriched my undergraduate experience. They introduced me to interesting people from around the world and allowed me to test out different potential career paths before deciding which graduate roles to apply for.

How did Bond prepare you for your future career?

Bond’s accelerated degree structure prepared me for the intensive nature of my early career positions, particularly in the commercial law environment where I started my career. Studying at Bond also taught me the importance of having a good time while pursuing your ambitions and goals – I learned how crucial it is to build strong relationships with your peers and to be able to draw on one another for support and guidance.

Tell us about your career path to date.

During my time at Bond, I completed clerkships at commercial law firms in Brisbane, as well as internships with the International Humanitarian Law program of the Australian Red Cross, and the previously mentioned internships overseas. Upon leaving Bond, I commenced a graduate program with Ashurst, during which I was admitted as a lawyer after completing my Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice (GDLP). I spent two-and-a-half years at Ashurst, both in Brisbane and Melbourne, practising primarily in the areas of energy and environmental law.

Having long had an interest in the way the world was responding to the dual crises of climate change and nature loss, I decided to undertake a Master of Philosophy in Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge, which I commenced in 2020. Throughout this degree, I studied international environmental law, environmental economics, and comparative environmental law and policy, all with a focus on climate change. Since completing my master’s degree, I’ve been working in London at Pollination, a climate change advisory and investment firm that concentrates on accelerating the transition to a net zero, nature-positive future.

What you do in your role at Pollination?

At Pollination, our clients include governments, companies, and financial services firms. We provide expert advice on climate and nature strategy, risk, governance and finance, as well as law and policy, helping clients to build organisational resilience while successfully navigating the transition to a low carbon economy.

I have worked on a number of projects across a range of sectors, including international carbon markets and corporate offsetting, supplier engagement strategies to incentivise supply chain decarbonisation, drafting country-level commitments (‘nationally determined contributions’) under the Paris Agreement, and advising on the implications of the transition for investors and private equity firms.

My expertise in law and policy, and in particular, environmental management and commercial strategy, has been at the core of my contribution to the firm. I’m now enjoying building on the foundation of legal experience I’ve gained in my career so far, and directing my energy towards the interdisciplinary nature of our work, including the economics and financial elements.

Since graduating from Bond, Thea has gone onto commence a fast-paced role as Associate at climate change advisory and investment firm Pollination in London

What sparked your interest in climate law?

Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was fortunate to spend time in Pacific Island countries visiting my mother, who was living there at the time. I engaged with communities who were experiencing a very real fear of climate change, which was already presenting itself as an imminent threat. This profoundly impacted me as a young person, forcing me to recognise the disproportionate contribution my lifestyle in Australia had on anthropogenic climate change, particularly given we are one of the highest greenhouse gas-emitting countries per capita.

Bond University has recently introduced a climate law specialisation within the Faculty of Law. What role do you see legal professionals playing in the climate change sector?

I was very excited to hear that Bond has introduced a climate law major to its law degree. I would have definitely taken that pathway had it been available when I started in 2014!

Lawyers and legal professionals can and will play so many roles in the green transition. We need environmental and planning litigators challenging developments, parliamentarians passing pro-climate legislation, government officials in policymaking, investors directing capital away from soon-to-be stranded assets like fossil fuel infrastructure and towards clean energy, climate advisory professionals, and so on. The low carbon transition will affect all sectors and those with knowledge of the core challenges and opportunities will be well-placed to help the world adapt.

Employability aside, each of us have a moral imperative, as members of the global community, to act in pursuit of a healthier future that recognises the inherent interconnectedness of people and planet. When the planet thrives, our communities thrive. The more people who are educated on the impacts of climate change and the regulatory response required to move away from the exploitative nature of our current economy, the better it will be for all of us.

What more do you feel law schools can do to best address climate change?

Law schools teaching climate law and policy are crucial to addressing the environmental challenges we face. Given the extent of societal change required to meet the global target of limiting warming to less than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, we need as many minds focused on the task as possible.

When teaching climate law, it is important for law schools to incorporate interrelated topics like nature law, human rights law, and climate justice into the curriculum, as they’re inextricably linked. For example, it is critical graduates have a good comprehension of Indigenous peoples’ voices in the climate conversation given Indigenous populations protect 80 per cent of our remaining global biodiversity, which is crucial for climate regulation.

Additionally, human rights implications should be taught, giving due consideration to the disproportionate impact climate change will have on existing inequalities, such as those faced by women and girls. The broader a university’s approach to climate law is, the more effective it will be in producing skilled professionals who are aware of the complexities and ready to take on current and future challenges.

What advice would you give to students aspiring to a career in climate law?

Go for it! It is an incredibly dynamic and rewarding field, with an abundance of opportunity. If you’re looking for a career that is challenging, inspiring and allows you to work towards making the world a better place, then this is the path for you.

I’d also recommend rolling up your sleeves and really getting to work to understand the ethics, science, and economics behind environmental decision-making, to support your legal expertise and fuel your passion. As with all career paths, try to find mentors to help you along the way. Support from experienced professionals will be invaluable as you navigate this rapidly changing landscape.

Bond Law graduates are doing big things in a wide variety of sectors, and are living and practising all over the world. Browse other inspiring alumni stories in our Life as a lawyer series.

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