ClientEarth raises the bar again

3rd June 2024

Carolyn O'DonnellCarolyn O'Donnell

Less than halfway through the year, ClientEarth has already made a significant impact by winning an action against the UK Government, supporting Dutch campaigners to prove false KLM greenwashing claims, and challenging a €3 billion plastics project that failed to provide full details of its impact.

ClientEarth uses the law to empower people and help them protect their environment. The organisation has helped governments to write environmental legislation and supports regulators to enforce it. Other substantial achievements include saving Europe’s oldest forests, paving the way for environmental lawsuits in China, and reducing logging in Africa’s last great rainforest.

Landmark victory in the High Court

ClientEarth secured another landmark judgment in early May when the High Court found the UK Government had breached the Climate Change Act by adopting the Carbon Change Delivery Plan. ClientEarth argued the Government’s climate strategy was not fit for purpose and the High Court agreed for the second time.

The latest judgment came after a three-pronged legal challenge by Friends of the Earth, the Good Law Project and ClientEarth. This ruling means the Secretary of State will now have to draft a revised plan over the next year to make sure the UK meets its pledge to reduce emissions by at least 68% by 2030 and fulfil legal requirements regarding Carbon Budgets.

In July 2022, the High Court made its first ruling in ClientEarth’s favour on the Government’s climate change plans after recognising the strategy was inadequate. The May 2024 ruling was made on the climate change proposals - the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan of  March 2023 - drafted in response to the first ruling.

The Climate Change Act was passed in 2008 and binds the Government to adopt a series of Carbon Budgets, or caps on the amount of greenhouse gases produced over five-year periods, to meet the eventual goal of net zero emissions.

Sam Hunter Jones, ClientEarth’s Senior Lawyer in London, said: “This judgment means the Government must now take credible action to address the climate crisis with a plan that can be trusted to deliver, and with numbers that can be relied on.” He added that the result was a “golden opportunity” to cut emissions and simultaneously “create jobs, improve services and bring down household bills”.


Protecting Portugal's Tagus estuary

In May ClientEarth also achieved another significant milestone. The organisation was part of a lawsuit that saved the Tagus Estuary in Portugal and its migratory birds from the devastation of a new airport. Following the lawsuit, authorities changed their plans and the nature reserve is now safe. The legal action and public outcry highlighted that building the airport on this internationally protected site was incompatible with protecting biodiversity. The effects of this airport would have been felt by ecosystems across continents.

The Tagus Estuary is one of Europe’s most important wetlands and a haven for millions of migratory birds. When news of the proposed airport was revealed, ClientEarth launched a lawsuit with nine NGOs to stop the project.


Stopping the proposed airport protects migratory bird routes (left) in around 30 countries and 350 Important Bird Areas (right) across nearly 17 million hectares, according to RSPB Science

Tackling greenwashing

Greenwashing in advertising is a continuing problem that continues to mislead consumers. ClientEarth’s complaint about BP’s advertising in December 2019 was a world first. BP pulled the campaign within months. ClientEarth then investigated some of the world's biggest fossil fuel companies. The ClientEarth greenwashing campaign highlights how advertising often doesn’t match reality, which is important when around two thirds of consumers are happy to pay more for goods that are eco-friendly.


A big step to eliminating greenwashing in January 2024, when the European Parliament voted in new rules to eliminate vague labelling.

Mission and approach

ClientEarth began in 2007 with one lawyer and his laptop. Today more than 300 people in 60+ countries around the world pool skills in environmental, corporate, human rights, and financial law to support its projects. ClientEarth forges partnerships across borders, systems and sectors to tackle the most pressing environmental challenges. ClientEarth believes people and the planet must thrive together and strives to hold industry and government accountable while accelerating essential systemic change.

ClientEarth is an award-winning charity that uses its legal expertise to strengthen laws that protect the planet. The team selects strategic targets to set precedents that make a powerful impact whether taking on governments, big business or the markets. It is safeguarding our planet for future generations and ensuring a fair, sustainable and secure energy system for all. Its strategy benefits from a diverse board, and deploying much of the funds it raises into projects such as supporting forest communities.

ClientEarth operates in a number of ways:

  • Ensuring environmental law is respected
  • Upholding rights of Indigenous peoples
  • Providing access to justice so people can take action when laws are broken
  • Holding governments to account for failure to mitigate climate change and safeguard the vulnerable
  • Enabling a greener future that phases out fossil fuels and polluting industries and fosters inclusive policies that benefit everyone.

ClientEarth provides several public benefits including:

  • Protecting the environment and human health
  • Educating the public about environmental justice
  • Promoting and commissioning research into law and justice that impacts the environment.

Other recent successes

These include warning the UK’s environmental watchdog in March that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs may have breached environmental law by approving a pesticide that poses risks to honey bees and other pollinators, along with freshwater aquatic life. The pesticide was authorised for use on sugar beet crops in East Anglia.

The importance of bees and other pollinators in producing seeds, ensuring food supply and protecting biodiversity has been thoroughly documented.


In another “groundbreaking” judgement in May, ClientEarth and Lipu-BirdLife Italy brought a lawsuit that will have important ramifications for EU biodiversity litigation. As a result of this case, the Italian Council of State made legal history and rescued a protected lake from destruction by ordering the Lazio region to “reverse” damage to protected habitats.

ClientEarth has also facilitated environmental lawsuits in China, and the organisation will continue to monitor air quality. A recent study revealed many Europeans are concerned about the quality of air they breathe, although clean air should be a human right.


Air satisfaction survey results, European Commission, 2024

ClientEarth’s global impact

ClientEarth’s global impact is felt through initiatives such as a complaint against food producer Cargill, which exports soy products from Latin America. This international company supplies large brands such as Tesco and its operations have been linked to deforestation, imperilling ecosystems and violating the rights of indigenous communities through its soy supply chain in Brazil. By highlighting Cargill’s activities ClientEarth aims to minimise the company’s harmful activities and improve its due diligence.

ClientEarth also spent 8 years working with local organisations in Congo to draft laws to manage and protect the forests of the Congo Basin. The Republic of Congo passed a new law to promote more sustainable management of the country’s forest resources in 2020.

Urgent need for action

“The world is changing dramatically, and the crucial years ahead will determine the health of the planet our children will inherit,” says James Thornton, ClientEarth President and Founder.

As the globe hurtles towards a climate emergency that could endanger millions of lives, change can feel impossible. But ordinary people can facilitate action that places pressure on institutions and governments, demanding action in areas such as food waste, fast fashion and the reckless use of plastics that choke waterways and kill animals.

The figures are compelling:

  • 90% of the world’s forests have disappeared
  • a million species are threatened with extinction
  • 7.25 million tonnes of plastic is dumped in our oceans annually
  • 20 million people each year are forced from their homes as a result of climate change.

Justice and the rule of law are at the heart of ClientEarth’s work to protect the environment. This includes drafting effective laws, then making sure they’re implemented and enforced by courts and regulators. ClientEarth takes action in vital areas, from addressing chemical pollution and defending habitats to driving legal change and fighting for all to have access to the clean air and water that are the essentials of life.

You can help today

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