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2018: A remarkable year in review

After another extraordinary year at ClientEarth, we’ve taken a look back over some of 2018’s achievements.

Unprecedented action on pollution

We got off to a great start with two major rulings on air pollution in the first weeks of the year.

In the UK, the courts ruled against the national government for the third time, demanding improvements to the government’s Air Quality Plan.

In Germany, just a few days later, the country’s highest court ruled that diesel bans were possible – and indeed legally required – where toxic air pollution is illegally high.

Clearing the air in Poland and Bulgaria

Following February’s big news, we won two more cases: this time, further east.

In Poland, we’d long been demanding over-polluted cities stop charging their visitors a heavily ironic ‘clean air tax’. In March this year, Warsaw’s court agreed, saying that tourists in Zakopane must not be charged an environmental fee if air quality standards are not met.

Meanwhile, conspicuous Bulgarian polluter, coal plant Brikel, asked for an expansion, which we vigorously opposed alongside our partners Za Zemiata Access to Justice. The Supreme Administrative Court blocked it in line with our arguments. Its owners are currently trying to find a way around the ruling. We are keeping a close eye on developments.

Grand Chamber ruling breaks new ground for all areas of our work

The Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union (gathering 15 judges) found in our favour in ruling that the European Commission must make impact assessments that support its decision-making process public. This was the culmination of a four-year battle for us, and is a judgement that has far-reaching consequences.

It set an important legal precedent not only for environmental matters but more broadly for citizens’ rights to hold policymakers to account and to participate in decision-making. It will impact many areas of our work and help us show where clear evidence contradicts poor decisions.

Guardians of the forest

One of the year’s biggest environmental scandals was the Polish government’s attempt to significantly increase logging in Bialowieza Forest, one of Europe’s last great ancient woodlands. As part of a coalition of environmental organisations, our wildlife team fought for a ruling from the European Commission that would prevent it. We got the win we were looking for in April. A huge victory for nature, appreciators of the forest and, in particular, wildlife such as the three-toed woodpecker and the pygmy owl.

Source: Frank Vassen

A win in the pipeline?

ClientEarth Poland kicked off one of two legal challenges against the contested Nord Stream II pipeline – the first of which was a complaint to the Finnish court over flaws in the decision permitting its construction. We argued that underwater detonation of old war ballistics, necessary to build the pipeline, would be extremely destructive to marine life. Similar action in Sweden followed in September.

May also saw the introduction of Germany’s first diesel ban – of which we will see many more in 2019.

And now we can all retire

Well, clearly we can’t – but June was a big moment for pensions law, as the government incorporated climate recommendations that we’d long campaigned for into proposals for the UK’s principal pensions law. Trustees and other pensions professionals will now have to consider climate change in their financial decision-making.

Summer suing

…happened really quite fast. Within three short weeks, our burgeoning climate team launched multiple legal complaints against major UK businesses.

Insurers, pension funds, commercial companies and auditors were all under scrutiny as our lawyers pointed out climate risk disclosures that failed to paint the full picture of their exposure.

After what felt like the hottest and longest of long hot summers, we also got back some revelatory results on a nationwide YouGov poll gauging UK attitudes to climate change and energy.

Pastures new

In Autumn, we opened an office in Berlin, taking our work to another key EU capital – just as conversation around the German coal phase-out heats up.

And after impassioned campaigning along with members of the local community in Czerwionka-Leszczyny, Poland, the local coking plant closed, relieving people in the area of years of illegal pollution that was affecting their and their children’s health.

Parents demand clean air – in UK Parliament

Concerned parents headed for Westminster in October, generating national coverage for our Clean Air Parents’ Network. They demanded more from the UK Government, which they say is not doing enough to protect vulnerable children from illegal levels of air pollution.

At the same time, we challenged a deeply undemocratic move by Bulgaria’s parliament, which would effectively block civil society and environmental organisations from taking legal action against industrial projects.

Breaking yet more new ground

In November, we brought the world’s first shareholder lawsuit on climate. We had warned Enea and Energa, the owners of controversial €1.2bn coal project Ostroleka C, that they were acting against shareholders’ best interests by proceeding with plans to build the plant.

Nearer our London headquarters, we filed an objection to a gas expansion at major power station Drax, in North Yorkshire – on the basis that the government must not lock the UK energy system into high-carbon production.

‘Tis the season…

…to go to Poland and campaign tirelessly to save the climate.

COP24 saw many a journalist slumped on a laptop, and many negotiators very near the end of their tethers, after several all-nighters.

It also saw an incredible musical interlude from pioneering musicians Weiss and Sutor – and a classical chamber orchestra. Performed to a large crowd on the last night of the COP in Katowice, and christened “The Lost Seasons”, it reimagines Vivaldi’s work – for a new and uncertain climate.

Thank you for your support this year – whether it’s following our news, donating, being part of the environmental movement in whatever way, large or small.

Happy holidays – and we’ll be back for more in 2019.

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Sergey Ashmarin