Client Earth

Client Earth: working with the law

With Donald Trump contentiously pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement and with BBC Radio 4 sparking a backlash over its decision to include Lord Lawson, a prominent global warming sceptic, in a discussion on climate change, environmental concerns are once again at the forefront of public consciousness.  

The worrying aspect, however, is that they were ever allowed to abate.  

As NASA outline, previous scientific predictions about the consequences of climate change are occurring: sea levels are rising, sea ice is deteriorating, and heat waves are becoming more frequent.  

The catastrophic effects this will have on flora and fauna cannot be understated. Animal ranges are shifting, plants are flowering too soon, and severe drought threatens to obliterate crops. Indeed, Dhaka (Bangladesh) could be seasonally underwater within a decade 

The question of tackling global warming is therefore one of great urgency. With multinational co-operation superficial at best – Nicaragua refused to join the Paris Agreement after quite rightly pointing out that it didn’t go nearly far enough – and unilateral change wholly depending on the vested interests of individual governments, political resolution appears unlikely.    

Pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are restricted to exactly that; pressure. Irrevocably tied by circumstance to the administrations they protest against, they can influence policy but rarely create it. Direct action and ecotage, prominent alternative methods, risk alienating moderate members and breaking the law. 

Working with the law, and not against it, is an option currently being employed by Client Earth, who are ‘activist lawyers committed to securing a healthy planet’. They use ‘environmental law to protect oceans, forests, and other habitats as well as all people’, and are currently scrutinising the British and Scottish governments over their air quality plans.  

As Ketan Jha, PhD researcher and Environmental Law teacher at Sussex Law School, explains:  

“Client Earth effectively calls both the legislature and the executive to account in regards to environmental issues across media. Local air pollution provides an illustrative case: in 2015 the organisation won an action against the Government in the Supreme Court, alleging a manifest violation of the EU’s Ambient Air Quality Directive.  

(This) bolsters the case for NGO-based litigation as a mechanism to evenly enforce the law in the face of executive reluctance.” 

They have also filed prominent suits against the European Commission and Council of the European Union regarding biofuels and transparency.  

Often working in tandem with Greenpeace and WWF, Client Earth shows that addressing climate change – a mammoth, vital challenge – can be accomplished in the courts, alongside grassroots conservation methods and traditional pressure group led action.  


Glenn Houlihan is an American Studies and Film Studies undergraduate, and Deputy Editor of The Badger at the University of Sussex. To get in touch, please email

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