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James Thornton

9th December 2020

Clean energy
Climate accountability

How ClientEarth are making the post-Covid recovery green

At ClientEarth, we are believers in the opportunities that our post-pandemic recovery could provide to change the social and economic systems, which damage our planet and those on it. However, just because the opportunity for a green recovery is clear to many, it does not mean it will necessarily happen. We need to make the case for it.

Too often, we find governments who, even when well-intentioned and wanting to do the right thing, can’t quite figure out how. They may not have the right people, the time, or are being pressed politically.

Now more than ever governments around the world will be under pressure to rebuild and regrow their economies, quickly. There is a risk this could lead to some people calling for deregulations, specifically around environmental and human rights.

We are asking stakeholders and ourselves, what will it take to ensure economic growth does not come at the cost of climate commitments? And what sort of conditions should be built into recovery packages to ensure our economy and society remains resilient in the face of impending climate crises?

The positives

The election of Joe Biden has not been the only hopeful news this winter. We are thrilled to have seen the plans for a green recovery develop on a global scale.

Germany have promised €40 billion this year on climate spending, and France €31 billion. The UK has only promised £8 billion thus far, but we’ve recently had the Ten Point Plan from the Prime Minister, which is a positive step from the UK government without question. The European Union has powered on with the Green Deal, and we’ve seen Biden promise a huge plan worth $2 trillion to deal with climate change. We now need to ensure that those promises are followed through with concrete action, which is where our lawyers come in.

What have we achieved so far?


The introduction of the European Green Deal means the EU is legally bound by carbon reduction objectives. This means that the EU cannot allow countries to give public money to fossil fuels, or other polluting carbon activity, and all State aid needs to be scrutinised. So we find ourselves in a situation where granting funds to companies and industries fuelling climate change is not only irrational – it’s now legally indefensible.

Our analysis shows that the European Commission has a clear responsibility under the treaties to push governments to design national recovery programmes so that these meet the dual objectives of tackling the economic crisis and the climate crisis at the same time.

The UK

We wrote to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and widely shared a position statement with politicians, advisers and contacts, advocating for our conditions for their recovery package. We were invited to give evidence on these conditions before the House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee and were very pleased with the reception.


We made extensive green recovery contributions to China’s Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development. The CCICED recommendations are the most senior and authoritative environmental policy recommendations to China’s state council. They are shared with the leadership and all relevant ministries, and they have the endorsement of vice premier Han Zheng and minister of environment Huang Runqiu.

What can you do?

When talking about change, the buck often stops with the individual and the green recovery is no different. However, whilst I believe everyone should be active in their fight for a better world, what’s more important is ensuring that the governments are in charge of supporting people through this transition.

Many people already are, young and old, making positive choices to cycle rather than drive and to eat less meat but we need that kind of change at scale. This has started to intersect with some massive areas of government and we must make sure we do not leave anyone behind.

Our recovery should prioritise the growth of clean and green industries and the health and well-being of citizens.

Our head of Public Affairs, Simon Alcock, summarised it well “We’ve got to take people with us, we’ve got to have an open discourse with them about how our lives are going to change, and we’ve got to provide the financial support and incentives for that to happen. It’s not just about people doing a bit more recycling, it’s got to go further than that, but it’s got to be led by governments and industries, and it’s down to them to provide people with support. If we’re going to tackle this, we can’t just leave it up to people individually.”