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ClientEarth Communications

14th December 2020

About ClientEarth

2020: A year in review

2020 will be remembered for the devastating global Covid-19 pandemic, which has had an unprecedented social and economic impact and will change the way we live and work for years to come.

But the fight to protect our planet couldn’t be put on hold and we have continued to do all that we can to fight climate change, tackle pollution and defend wildlife and habitats. Here are just some of the things we’ve achieved with your support:

Tackling climate change

Fighting for cleaner energy

We had some big wins in our fight to move beyond coal in Europe and began working with partners across Asia to highlight the environmental, financial and legal risks of continuing to invest in coal.

  • In a landmark decision, a Polish District Court judge demanded the operators of Europe’s biggest coal plant – Belchatow - negotiate with our lawyers and work towards its closure.
  • Following our shareholder lawsuit, Polish energy firms Enea and Energa announced they would suspend funding to, and construction of, the country’s last planned new coal plant, Ostroleka C, over economic concerns. Their decision demonstrated to the global market that companies must take note of the risks of fossil fuels in today's world.
  • We took legal challenges against coal operators in Bulgaria who had been moving to burn waste alongside coal in an attempt to keep coal plants alive. As a result of our legal interventions and advocacy, the Pernik power plant withdrew its investment proposal to burn waste and the operators of Bobov Dol and Brikel announced that they would put an end to waste burning.
Pushing to reform a climate-wrecking energy agreement

After months of advocacy on the dangers of the Energy Charter Treaty – an international agreement covering investments in the energy sector – national governments and the European Parliament are questioning its costs and benefits. We will continue to push for a complete overhaul of the system, which currently can result in foreign investors suing governments for taking climate action.

Challenging pension schemes on climate change

We spent months working with the UK Government and a cross-party group of peers in the House of Lords to introduce key changes to the Pension Schemes Bill. Pension funds are now required to take stronger action on climate change risk and the changes will transform how the pensions industry treats climate change going forwards.

Tackling greenwashing

In February, BP announced it would pull its current ad campaigns and promised to end corporate reputational advertising, following our world-first complaint alleging greenwashing. In June, in a decision that sets a precedent for action against corporate greenwashing, the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (NCP) assessed ClientEarth’s complaint as being material and substantiated.

Protecting forests

Protecting the world’s second lung

Forests in the Republic of Congo form part of the Congo Basin – the second largest tropical rainforest in the world after the Amazon. This year, the Republic of Congo passed a new law to help ensure more sustainable management of the country’s vast forests. Our legal experts had spent eight years working with local partner organisations to help draft the law. The new Forest Code ensures the rights of local forest communities for the first time.

Pushing to eliminate deforestation from supply chains

Our forests team have continued to push for the EU and UK to require companies and financial institutions to assess and mitigate the impact their supply chains and financing have on forests. Increasing demand for commodities is having a significant impact on the world’s forests – we want to prevent consumer choices fuelling deforestation and hold companies accountable.

Challenging the environmental impact of Mercosur trade deal

The European Ombudsman opened an inquiry into the Mercosur trade deal between the EU and South American countries. It follows a complaint from ClientEarth and our partners alleging that the European Commission ignored its legal obligation to ensure the trade deal would not lead to social, economic and environmental degradation and human rights violations.

Ending pollution

Blocking an unnecessary plastic plant expansion

Petrochemicals giant Ineos plans to expand a plastics refinery in Antwerp. This year, we took legal action against the project, arguing it was given the go-ahead without fully considering its environmental and climate impacts. Already we have delayed the project for over a year and we will continue to argue in court that this whole project should not be allowed to go ahead.

Banning lead in recycled PVC

In cooperation with our partners, we achieved a landmark success when the European Parliament vetoed the illegal authorisation of lead in PVC. Considering that lead can cause dramatic harm to people even at low doses, this authorisation was unacceptable from a public health and an environmental perspective.

Protecting wildlife and habitats

Defending the Tagus Estuary

We launched a case to challenge the construction of the Montijo airport in the Tagus Estuary in Portugal. The area is on the path of hundreds of thousands of migratory wetland birds and is protected under numerous international treaties. We’re challenging the project’s incomplete ‘environmental impact assessment’ .

Strengthening the Fisheries Bill

After months of advocacy and support from members of our Sustainable Seafood Coalition, the UK Fisheries Bill was amended in line with our key priorities on sustainability objectives and remote electronic monitoring to prevent the illegal discarding of unwanted fish.

Blocking logging in Europe’s oldest forests

When the Polish government announced plans to resume logging in Bialowieza forest – Europe’s last ancient forest – we took our fight to the EU and the Polish government dropped its plans. The EU commission followed up on our complaint and took Poland to the EU’s top court over its continued failure to protect forests and wildlife.

Strengthening the rule of law

Challenging a lack of transparency

In a win for democracy and transparency, the EU Ombudsman condemned the Council of the European Union for refusing to publish information on how it sets fishing catch limits. Her criticism followed a complaint our lawyers lodged against the Council after many years of fishing quotas set above the scientific advice without explanation.

Building legal capacity

In 2020, we trained more than 430 public interest lawyers, judges, members of public administrations and academics on access to justice in EU law, through four trainings in France and six webinars.

Pushing for access to justice

The European Union is now revising its regulation on access to justice. It follows a legal battle we started more than a decade ago to allow NGOs to challenge environmental decisions before the EU courts, as required by the Aarhus Convention, an international agreement promoting access to justice in environmental matters.

What next?

Whether tackling the climate crisis or responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, humanity’s greatest strength is in cooperation and solidarity – this is more important than ever.

In the coming months and years, we must embrace the opportunity we are presented with and ensure that the recovery from the pandemic is green, equitable and resilient. Thanks to your ongoing support, we will continue to use the power of the law to create a greener future. Thank you for joining us.