Sarah Barker
Partner, Climate & Sustainability Risk Governance, Melbourne
As the leader of MinterEllison's international Climate Change and Sustainability Risk Governance team, I empower corporations, institutional investors, and government agencies to manage dynamic environmental, social, and governance risks.

My expertise lies in the implications of climate change and sustainability-related exposures under commercial, corporate and securities laws, including directors' fiduciary duties and financial reporting obligations.

Boards consider ESG risk a top concern, and I work closely with directors on ESG governance, with a sharp focus on climate risk, including biodiversity as a material financial risk.

My approach is cross-disciplinary, drawing from formal qualifications in environmental science to practical experience as a non-executive director of one of Australia’s largest superannuation funds. Working at the forefront of international developments with institutions like the Bank of England, United Nations, and World Economic Forum enables me to provide practical, forward-thinking advice to clients across various sectors - financial services, mining & resources, industrials, retail, agriculture, infrastructure, development, and government.

My international roles include Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Committee of Climate Governance Experts, a faculty member of Cambridge University’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership (teaching its non-executive directors’ program), and Australia’s representative on the board of the Commonwealth Climate & Law Initiative. In Australia, I serve as a member of the SteerCo of the AICD’s Climate Governance Initiative and sit on the AASB’s External Advisory Board on Extended Reporting and Treasury’s Australian Sustainable Finance Initiative Taxonomy Technical Expert Group.

My insights from the forefront of global developments in climate and sustainability ensure that I provide clients with advice on their current obligations and support them to position when risks develop.

Recent international experience

  • Faculty member, Cambridge University Institute for Sustainability Leadership; academic visitor, Oxford University Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment Sustainable Finance Programme.
  • Commonwealth Climate and Law Initiative – founding partner and non-executive director involved in work across Australia, the UK, Europe, Canada, South Africa and Singapore.
  • Bank of England Prudential Regulation Authority – report on Climate Risks for the Insurance Sector, on which Mark Carney’s seminal ‘Tragedy of the Horizon’ speech at Lloyds of London was based (September 2015).
  • Guidance for directors by the United Nations Principles of Responsible Investment and United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative: Fiduciary Duty in the 21st Century (2016).
  • Legal risk partner in a global consortium report commissioned by the European Union on Financial System Risks Arising from the Energy Transition (2016-17).
  • United Nations PRI – recipient of Sustainalytics Prize for Responsible Investment Research (September 2014).

Recent Australian experience

  • Governance and reporting/disclosure advisor to a range of ASX100 and multi-national listed corporations (and their boards) in the financial services, mining and resources, retail, manufacturing, and development sectors.
  • Advisor on climate-related litigation risk exposures to Australian and international government agencies, financial services institutions and professional services organisations.
  • Instructing solicitor on briefs to Mr Noel Hutley SC (October 2016 and March 2019) that is widely cited as the authoritative exposition on directors' duties with regard to climate change risk in Australia.

Selected recent publications

External

  • Barker, Sarah, Ellie Mulholland and Ben Caldecott, 'Directors' Liability and Climate Risk: Navigating the Step-Change in Disclosure and Governance Expectations', in Beekhoven van den Boezem, Jansen and Schuijling (eds.), Sustainability and Financial Markets, Wolters Kluwer, Deventer, 2019, Chapter 9 pp231-254.
  • Barker, Sarah, Ellie Mulholland, Cynthia Williams, and Robert G. Eccles, ‘Climate Change and Directors’ Duties: Closing the Gap Between Legal Obligation and Enforcement Practice’, in Richard LeBlanc (ed.), The Handbook of Board Governance (2nd ed), Wiley, April 2020.
  • Barker, Sarah, Ellie Mulholland and Jackie Peel, 'Australia's international climate change commitments – Associated accounting assumptions and auditing of climate risk disclosures', report to CPA Australia, January 2020.
  • Barker, Sarah, 'Lifting The Corporate Veil: An Introduction To Directors’ Liability Exposures For Stranded Asset Risks', in Caldecott, Ben (ed.), Stranded Assets Anthology, Routledge, 2018.
  • Barker, Sarah, Mark Baker-Jones, Emma Fagan and Emilie Barton, 'Climate change and the fiduciary duties of pension fund trustees – lessons from the Australian law', (2016) 6(3) Journal of Sustainable Finance & Investment 211.
  • Barker, Sarah and Jay Youngdahl, 'Momentum building on climate risk', Pensions and Investments, August 2015.
  • Barker, Sarah, 'Shareholder climate action…but not as you know it', Energy & Resources Law Bulletin, March 2015.
  • Barker, Sarah, 'Directors' Personal Liability for Corporate Inaction on Climate Change', Governance Directions, February 2015.
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https://www.minterellison.com/people/sarah-barker