How ClientEarth identifies what to work on

Environmental challenges are often global and highly complex. Their impacts are equally wide-ranging. Humanity has a series of choices to make that will lead to a welcoming future world or a bleak one. Helping lawmakers to write good laws and amend weak ones, and enforcing the law when governments fail to do so, is an enormously powerful tool to use in defence of the planet.

We know that by using the law we can drive systemic change that tackles the most pressing of these challenges at their root.  When it’s deployed with a comprehensive understanding of the science, informed by economics and alert to politics, the law can help balance the needs of people and nature.

How do we choose what to work on?

We shape, strengthen and enforce the law to

  • Combat climate change and pollution
  • Secure people’s environmental rights
  • Protect and restore habitats, wildlife and natural resources

Our resources are finite – but the breadth and depth of experience of our team means we are able to innovate and use many types of law to secure our environmental goals.

We know we can bring to bear not only environmental law but also finance and business law, state aid and competition law, trade law and many other legal disciplines.

With these tools at our disposal we review the legal landscape across the globe on an ongoing basis to ensure we’re using our expertise for the greatest possible impact. Choosing what to work on is a complex undertaking, but among other factors we consider:

  • Importance. Is significant environmental damage or harm to human health (or the risk of such damage or harm) occurring?
  • Leverage. Can we identify an intervention or a series of interventions where we can directly target the problem, advance solutions, or create systemic change?
  • Opportunity. One or more fertile venues or geographies is available where we can act.
  • Space. Can ClientEarth bring a new approach, perspective or expertise to the field?
  • Impact. Does the challenge or project have a good prospects of success on their terms, including momentum building and enabling future action by ClientEarth or others?
  • Resources. Do we have access to the resources necessary to see the project through to success?

By applying these tests we’ve identified seven global challenges where we believe we can have the most impact.

Rule of law

Why we work on it: Our central discipline is the law. In all of our programmes we use the law to drive – and in some cases compel – strong action from governments, shift financial flows, change markets, trade and business practices, and empower citizens and communities. Our legal tools include legal advocacy, building the legal capacity of others, litigation and campaigning. We cannot do any of this effectively without strong environmental laws and robust legal systems and processes in place, as well as access to the courts.

Climate and the Paris Agreement

Why we work on it: Climate change is one of the greatest challenges humanity faces. It will underlie almost all other problems for generations to come. The world is currently on course for at least 3ºC of warming, with potentially grave impacts including at least 1-2 meters of sea level rise, unpredictable and extreme weather, species extinction and threats to food security. The Paris Agreement set ambitious goals for global climate policy, but national and regional policy, and business and investment strategies, urgently need to align with those goals to make them happen. There is no time to lose.

Energy transition

Why we work on it: To achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, it is vital that the world’s energy systems decarbonise by 2040. This requires at least a halving of emissions each decade. That transition needs to happen in a planned, just and sustainable way. We believe that the keys to unlocking this transformation in Europe are:

  • completion of the integration of the EU energy market;
  • eliminating the use of fossil fuels (especially coal) in the energy sector;
  • increasing competition to enable new market entrants;
  • better use of public subsidies and public financing to increase the market share of renewables and ensure the transition is from ‘ coal to clean’ (and particularly that the share of gas and biomass in the energy is limited).

Pollution and health

Why we work on it: Air pollution is the world’s single biggest environmental health risk. Over 400,000 premature deaths are attributed to air pollution in Europe each year, including over 40,000 in the UK. The main cause of air pollution in Europe is the burning of solid fuel, including coal, and diesel use in transportation. The impacts are felt the most in cities.

In addition to fossil fuel combustion, pesticides and chemicals are the other main causes of pollution. More than 100,000 chemical substances are commercially available in Europe and the number of new substances on the global market is still growing.

Proper regulation is essential to identify which chemicals are hazardous, and to ensure that exposure of people, wildlife and ecosystems to harmful chemicals is minimised.

Forests

Why we work on it: Forests are critical for our survival. In addition to acting as carbon sinks, they provide livelihoods for people and habitats for a huge range of wildlife, and they help prevent flooding and soil erosion. Globally, forests decreased by 129 million hectares over the 25 years to 2015, to just under four billion hectares. The rate of net forest loss has slowed – estimated at 3.3 million hectares per year. But these numbers disguise a shift – planted forest area is increasing while decreases in natural forest cover continue. The reasons for deforestation and forest degradation are complex.

Timber production, the conversion of forests for agriculture, mining and infrastructure expansion, and climate objectives all impact forests.

The EU is a key market for commodities that impact forests and has the potential to exert influence far beyond its own borders.

We need our forests. So we need stronger national forest governance and more discerning trade.

Oceans

Why we work on it: Our oceans have changed more in the last thirty years than in all of human history before. Healthy oceans are essential to feeding the world and providing livelihoods. They also provide habitats for countless species of animals and plants and contain some of the most fragile ecosystems in the world. Despite this, we are overexploiting fish stocks, destroying hotspots for marine wildlife, and dumping around 8 million tons of plastic into the oceans each year. We urgently need to halt these devastating impacts.

Wildlife

Why we work on it: Wildlife is facing major population declines. By 2020 populations of vertebrate species are expected to have fallen by 67% compared to 1970 levels. Urgent action must be taken to reverse the damaging impacts of human activity on species and their habitats. As a result of conservation efforts in Europe, large carnivores, including the brown bear, the lynx and the wolf, are recovering but many species including butterflies, bees and birds are in rapid decline with potentially devastating consequences for ecosystems as well as food security and livelihoods.

Reversing these losses will also have a positive impact on human wellbeing.

Does ClientEarth bring challenges identified by the public?

We are always grateful to environmentally concerned citizens highlighting challenges that need to be addressed. Even when they are aligned with the priorities for impact identified above, it is rare that we will be able to offer legal assistance. Our finite resources, limits set by charity law, laws on access to the courts and laws on what kind of advice we are allowed to provide mean it’s often not possible for us to engage. Where we can we will suggest alternative routes to finding legal support.

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