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ClientEarth Communications

17th December 2019


2019: A year in review

2019 has been a year of increased urgency over the climate crisis and growing public awareness about climate change.  So much so that Oxford Dictionaries announced ‘climate emergency’ as its Word of the Year.

But we don’t want to remember 2019 as just the year of a climate emergency. Because there has also been a huge amount of climate action – from the global youth climate strikes to many of the world’s leaders committing to ambitious climate plans.

At ClientEarth, 2019 has also been a year of huge successes as we continue to use the power of the law to tackle some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. Here are some of our highlights:

Cutting Europe’s ties with coal

The EU needs to end burning coal for power by 2030 if we are to have a chance of stopping catastrophic climate change. This year our lawyers have had huge successes in the fight against coal in Europe.

  • In Greece, our work led to the Supreme Administrative Court annulling the environmental permits of two coal plants. We were also highly successful in our advocacy work which led to Greece's largest electric power company, PPC, abandoning the sale of 40% of its lignite assets and the Greek government announcing plans to phase-out coal by 2028.
  • Our lawyers also published high-profile analysis to prevent German coal companies getting vast government payoffs to close down under the coal phase-out. The companies are arguing that they deserve compensation to close early – whereas the industry has long known carbon-intensive coal’s heyday could not last forever.
  • Following our legal complaint and a multi-year court battle, in June the Polish Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the Polnoc 1.6GW coal-fired power station will not be built. It was a huge victory for the climate and demonstrated that the future of energy doesn’t belong to coal.
  • In August, there was another major blow for Polish coal with our court win over planned Polish coal plant Ostrołęka C. We took a world-first shareholder lawsuit against the project’s co-owner Enea, on the basis that the investment posed a major financial risk to the company. The court ruled that the company's resolution to authorise the plant’s construction was invalid, potentially spelling the end for Ostrołęka C.
  • In October, we took our fight against coal to Europe’s biggest coal plant. Belchatow power plant in Poland is five times the size of the average plant and, with its surrounding mines, it’s visible from space. Our lawsuit was a first-of-its-kind, making operators accountable for the direct impact their activities have on the planet and the surrounding environment.

The tide begins to turn for plastic

We have been calling for stronger laws on plastic for several years, working with partners to lobby EU institutions for change. This year, our efforts have led to the adoption of six new EU directives on plastics – bringing about crucial reform. These new directives make it harder and more expensive to put plastic on the EU market and will oblige EU member states to significantly reduce plastic consumption.

Climate change and human rights

The Australian government has one of the world’s worst records on climate change. Indigenous Australians from the Torres Strait are living on the climate frontline, as they battle with rising seas that threaten their ancestral homes and unique way of life. In May, we launched the world’s first climate change case before the UN Human Rights Committee. We’re supporting eight Torres Strait Islanders to bring their case against the Australian government on human rights grounds.

Cleaning up Europe’s air

We continued our fight for clean air in Europe and have seen progress across the UK and Europe, with announcements to introduce Clean Air Zones in Birmingham and Leeds and new diesel restrictions ordered in Germany. We also won a crucial case before the EU’s top court that will ensure stronger protection of human health and the environment and wider access to justice in the EU. The Court of Justice of the European Union’s ruling allows citizens to challenge the adequacy of monitoring stations and force the relevant authorities to ensure air quality levels are met across the entire city, instead of basing compliance on average levels of pollution that can hide dirty air hot-spots.

Ground-breaking report on community-forestry

We published a ground-breaking report on the legal foundations for community forestry, based on an analysis of the experiences in the Philippines, Tanzania and Nepal. The report and its dissemination has opened new opportunities for collaboration in Asia.

We were invited to engage in Laos and Vietnam, sharing lessons learned on our work on forest governance in Africa. We’re also now starting to explore work on community forestry with new partners. By upholding communities’ rights and providing the right support, we can create an enabling environment where people improve the health of forests while benefiting from them.

Taking on the fossil fuel industry

In December, we launched a legal complaint against BP over its ad campaigns, which we think are greenwash. Their adverts focus on BP’s low-carbon energy products but in reality, BP are spending just £4 in every £100 on clean energy investments - the rest is spent on climate-damaging oil and gas. We’ve also launched a campaign calling for a ban on all fossil fuel advertising unless it comes with a tobacco-style health warning about its climate impact.

Defending your right to justice in the EU

Our decade-long battle led to the European Commission admitting that its laws must be changed to allow greater access to justice for EU citizens. The European Commission has agreed that the Aarhus Regulation needs revising and that NGOs should have the right to challenge more types of EU actions. We are now working to ensure the Commission adopts a legislative proposal giving citizens more scope to challenge illegal acts by EU bodies.

Protecting human health from harmful chemicals

Our chemicals team made real progress in protecting European citizens from chemicals that threaten human health. Our lawyers supported the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) before the EU’s General Court, backing ECHA’s decision to identify Bisphenol A (BPA) as a ‘high concern’ chemical. It’s widely used in household products even though it's extremely dangerous for human health and can lead to early puberty, cancer, heart disease and obesity.

All of this would not be possible without the generous support of people like you.