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ClientEarth logo.png
FounderJames Thornton (CEO)[1]
FocusLaw, Environmentalism

ClientEarth is a non-profit environmental law organisation, founded in 2008,[2] with offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin, and Beijing.[3][1][4] In 2012 BusinessGreen gave ClientEarth its NGO of the Year award.[5] In 2013 ClientEarth was awarded the Law Society's LSA Award for Excellence in Environmental Responsibility.

Activities and campaigns[edit]

Access to justice[edit]

ClientEarth is attempting to make it a legal right for European citizens and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to bring environmental cases to court.[1][4] In 2010, ClientEarth were successful in a legal challenge to get UK courts to accept the Aarhus Convention; this convention obliges governments to give rights and remove financial barriers to NGOs and individuals to mount legal challenges to cases of environmental damage.[6][7] In 2011 ClientEarth announced the launch of its European Aarhus Centre. It provides citizens and Non-governmental organisations with the legal expertise necessary to improve access to information and justice in the EU.

Air pollution[edit]

In 2009, ClientEarth successfully lobbied the European Commission to reject the British Government's request for a time extension on improving air quality in its most polluted areas.[8] In July 2011 the organisation submitted a case to the High Court, challenging Defra on its failure to protect UK citizens' health from the harmful impacts of air pollution.[9] While applications for judicial review in the High Court and Court of Appeal were declined, ClientEarth's appeal to the Supreme Court was successful; it found Government in breach of the law and referred further questions to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU).[10]


Along with three other environmental groups (Transport and Environment, the European Environmental Bureau and BirdLife International), ClientEarth filed a lawsuit against the European Commission in March 2010. The groups sued the Commission for not releasing important documents concerning biofuels in line with transparency rules.[11]

In September of the same year, the four groups filed a second lawsuit against the Commission, to attempt to gain the release of documentation regarding the negative environmental impact of biofuels.[11][12] Despite speculation that biofuels would create more climate-warming emissions than petrol or diesel,[4] a Commission-funded study had suggested that EU biofuel policy would reduce carbon emissions; however, this conclusion was subsequently shown to be based on flawed assumptions chosen by the Commission.[11]

Coal industry[edit]

ClientEarth has challenged plans to build two coal-fired power plants in Kingsnorth, Kent.[1]

Along with Greenpeace, WWF, Spanish energy companies and the regional authority of Galicia, ClientEarth has intervened regarding the European Commission's decision to approve subsidies to the Spanish coal industry. The approved plan gives preferential access to the wholesale electricity market in Spain for power plants that run on domestic coal. Spanish electricity utilities, including Gas Natural, Iberdrola and Endesa have claimed that this will force them to withdraw from contracts for cheaper imported coal and buy more expensive, lower-quality domestic coal, while the parties have also argued that the decision breaches European laws on state aid and the environment, and that the Spanish government aid will unfairly skew the European energy market. ClientEarth also expressed concern that, if the decision was allowed to stand, other countries may be tempted to use similar tactics to bolster their coal sectors. They and the other environmental groups rejected Spain's position that it was attempting to protect the nation's energy security, arguing that the country has an oversupply of natural gas and, at times, renewable energy.[13][14]

Company reporting[edit]

ClientEarth have written to the Financial Reporting Review Panel asking that they properly enforce the Companies Act, the law regarding company reporting of environmental and social issues. ClientEarth charge that such reports often do not adequately consider risks and impacts in these areas, and have proposed an overhaul of the law for when the Act is reviewed.[15]

In July 2010, ClientEarth made a specific complaint regarding mining company Rio Tinto, arguing that statements in the company's annual reports contradicted accounts from other sources including government agencies, NGOs and journalists.[16] ClientEarth argued that, if verified, Rio Tinto's reports would not comply with UK law.[17]

Marine protection[edit]

In 2008, ClientEarth sued the French government for failing to enforce a ban on drift net fishing, but the claim was rejected by the French court in Paris. The court also declined a later request for an emergency order, that would have forced the government to intervene.[2]

An investigation by ClientEarth in 2010 found that 32 of 100 fish product labels at nine supermarkets had unverified or misleading claims on sustainability or protection of the marine environment, such as "dolphin-friendly". In addition, the organisation expressed concern that labels often did not make clear that many fish products came from threatened stocks, or that they were caught using techniques that had potential to damage the environment or other species. ClientEarth called for supermarkets to remove or correct these labels, or risk breaching consumer protection laws.[18][19]

In 2010, ClientEarth voiced its opposition to the EU's potential to force its member states' abstention from a vote regarding the introduction of whaling quotas. The EU had changed whale protection's categorisation from a conservation issue to a fisheries issue, which it believed would allow the forced abstention if the member states could not reach a unanimous agreement; ClientEarth argued that EU law did not allow for this re-classification, and that the instruction to abstain would be illegal as unanimity is not required on conservation issues. ClientEarth also noted that, where EU states cannot agree on international environmental issues, Union Laws require them to vote to protect and strengthen an existing EU position; thus, they argued that the member states should vote against the International Whaling Commission's plan to allow the resumption of commercial whaling.[20]

Also in 2010, ClientEarth highlighted to the EU fisheries ministers that, given the rapid decline of bluefin tuna stocks, they were legally obliged to ban bluefin fishing in the Mediterranean and Atlantic for at least three years, from 2011-2013. ClientEarth also argued that France's overfishing in 2007 meant they should be banned from receiving any bluefin catch quota in 2011, and that Italy should also be penalised for overfishing, although less severely than France.[21] However, following the meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the European Council announced that it unanimously agreed to support total allowable catches (TACs) in line with ICCAT's scientific advice. ClientEarth argued that these TACs would mean only a 30-45 percent likelihood that bluefin levels would recover by 2020, despite EU law demanding that all fish stocks are at sustainable levels by this date.[22][23]

ClientEarth is currently supporting Fish Fight, a campaign backed by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Channel 4, that aims to stop the practice of discarding fish under the Common Fisheries Policy.[24]

Oil industry[edit]

ClientEarth has complained to the Financial Reporting Review Panel regarding the activities of oil company BP. They argued that the company used a highly unrealistic scenario when predicting future energy demand, enabling them to justify continued investment in risky extraction methods.[25]


In 2010, ClientEarth filed a lawsuit against the Council of the European Union, regarding plans to revise the EU's 2002 access-to-documents law, which gives individuals the right to view internal EU documents. ClientEarth sued the Council over its alleged failure to disclose its in-house legal opinion about the review of the 2002 rules.[11]

Notable employees[edit]

Employees of ClientEarth include Professor Ludwig Kramer and CEO James Thornton; the latter was named by the New Statesman in 2009 as one of "ten people who could change the world".[26]


Coldplay are patrons of the organisation.[1][27] Brian Eno is one of the group's trustees.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Advocate for the Planet". New Statesman. 8 January 2009. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  2. ^ a b Kanter, James (1 March 2010). "U.S. Lawyer Finds Europe Going Astray". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  3. ^ "ClientEarth gets China NGO registration | ClientEarth". ClientEarth. 2017-07-06. Retrieved 2018-03-13.
  4. ^ a b c "Lawyers of Nature". The Big Issue. 31 May 2010. p. 18.
  5. ^ "BusinessGreen Leaders Awards 2012: And the winner is..."
  6. ^ "Activists fight to save 'people's law on the environment'". The Ecologist. 23 September 2009. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  7. ^ Vaughan, Adam (27 August 2010). "High UK legal costs deter challenges to environmental damage, UN warns". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  8. ^ Lean, Geoffrey (31 July 2009). "Car exhausts: The invisible killer in our cities". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  9. ^ Jessica, Shankleman (29 July 2011). "Updated: Client Earth sues Caroline Spelman over weak pollution plans". Business Green. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c d "EU sued for lack of transparency". European Voice. 20 September 2010. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  12. ^ Krukowska, Ewa (20 September 2010). "Environmental groups sue European Union for lack of biofuels transparency". Bloomberg. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  13. ^ "Opposition to Spanish coal subsidies grows". Financial Times. 15 February 2011. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  14. ^ "EU court backs Spain coal aid for now". Reuters. 18 February 2011. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  15. ^ Bundock, B., Malloch, T. and Thornton, J. (2010). "Environmental and social transparency under the Companies Act 2006: Digging deeper" (PDF). Plymouth: Barbican Press.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ "Companies put on notice to report environmental impact of their work". The Guardian. London. 4 November 2010. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  17. ^ "Mining giant complaint could change impact reporting". Social Enterprise. 25 August 2010. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  18. ^ "Supermarkets accused of 'misleading' fish labelling". The Guardian. London. 10 January 2011. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  19. ^ Gray, Louise (11 January 2011). "Misleading 'dolphin friendly' claims could be illegal". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  20. ^ "The EU, champion of whalers?". European Voice. 22 June 2010. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  21. ^ "Lawyers call for three-year ban on bluefin tuna catches". fish2fork. 26 October 2010. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  22. ^ "EU tuna position is a "pitiful" compromise". 19 November 2010. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  23. ^ "Environmentalists turn up heat on ICCAT". 19 November 2010. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  24. ^ "Hugh's Fish Fight". Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  25. ^ "BP in deep water over annual reporting". The Guardian. London. 28 February 2011. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  26. ^ "Ten people who could change the world". New Statesman. 8 January 2009. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  27. ^ "Coldplay become patrons of ClientEarth". Coldplay Official Website. 16 November 2010. Retrieved 30 May 2011.

External links[edit]