Environmental law matters

In 2020, the International Bar Association recognised that “the legal profession must be prepared to play a leading role in maintaining and strengthening the rule of law and supporting responsible, enlightened governance in an era marked by a climate crisis.” At Obelisk, we are strong supporters of lawyers who do good and lawyers who make a difference to protect our planet. To celebrate Earth Day 2021, we found out the key players in environmental justice and environmental law, the leading UK voices who are shaping the relationship between climate change and law.

“It took a long time for the right to a healthy environment to be recognised in terms in human rights conventions.”
Lord Carnwath -- Justice of The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, 10 October 2018

#1 ClientEarth

Founded in 2008, ClientEarth is an international charity that uses the power of the law to change the system for a brighter and healthier future with high-impact campaigns. Pioneering a legal approach to fighting climate change, their lawyers and environmental law experts use the law to bring about end-to-end systemic change. From informing to implementing and enforcing the law, from advising decision makers on policy to training legal and judicial professionals, ClientEarth is present on all continents. At time of writing, they have 169 active cases tackling the most pressing environmental challenges.

In 2019, Obelisk Support was proud to support ClientEarth via the Global Law Photography Competition, raising awareness about the climate crisis within the legal profession. This month, ClientEarth launched two separate campaigns to start different conversations on the climate crisis.

  • The Greenwashing Files is a groundbreaking analysis of greenwashing claims by the fossil fuel industry and how green advertising is used to mislead the public about corporate sustainability goals.
  • Playlists for Earth gathers big names in music, including Coldplay and Alt-J, who have launched new playlists designed to spark environmental action.

Taking action against climate change as a lawyer is not always obvious but for ClientEarth, it is a commitment of every minute.

#2 Chancery Lane Project

If commercial law and contracts sound like more familiar ground, look no further than the Chancery Lane Project. This project is a collaborative effort of over 660 lawyers and legal professionals who share a unique approach to climate conscious contracting that is harmonious with the business of law. In the database that the Chancery Lane Project is building, commercial lawyers can find practical contract clauses that deliver climate solutions, including:

  • Net zero supply chain cascade clause,
  • Climate-friendly contract clauses on the ‘built environment’,
  • Paris-compliant company objects,
  • Carbon efficient dispute resolution clause,
  • Green shareholders agreements…

…and much more. A true crowd-sourced initiative, the project invites all lawyers to get involved by drafting new model clauses, as explained in the five-step Get Drafting process.

Understanding how business goals and climate-friendly contracts interact can pave the way to making the planet a better place for all of us.

#3 Friends of the Earth

From the third runway at Heathrow to fracking in Mozambique, Friends of the Earth’s legal team is busy defending climate justice for grassroots organisations and making governments accountable for climate goals.

Some of the projects they are involved in include:

  • Defending the right to protest,
  • Protecting future generations from climate breakdown,

  • Funding aspiring environmental lawyers, via the Phil Michaels Legal Interns Scholarship Fund,

  • Shaping policy to protect the planet.

For concerned citizens and environmental lawyers, Friends of the Earth has developed a handy Guide to community rights, environment and planning laws that will help clarify the planning system.

#4 Fish Legal

Fish Legal, the legal arm of the Angling Trust, is a UK-wide membership association that uses the law to protect fish and the water environment on behalf of anglers. Whether it’s the many types of water pollution, poaching and unlawful navigation, they assist their members by providing free legal advice and representing them legally.

With water pollution, sustainable fishing and habitat destruction reported as high-profile environmental threats in mainstream news, their legal team is busy throughout the country. To illustrate their work and make it more visible, Fish Legal have created a map of case studies highlighting the different areas where they are involved.

#5 Ember

Formerly known as Sandbag and based in East London, Ember is one of the few European charities working on carbon capture and storage, a sorely neglected mitigation strategy for the climate crisis. Founded by Baroness Bryony Worthington, a key architect of the UK’s Climate Change Act, the charity aims to change European legislation on climate by working with and influencing key policymakers. Using a proactive information strategy, they use data-based analytics to design effective climate policies.

#6 Environmental Justice Foundation

Focusing on helping vulnerable communities, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) makes a direct link between the need for environmental security and the defence of basic human rights, between the western world’s demands for cheap food and other goods, especially fish, shrimp and cotton, and degraded natural environments in developing countries. As evidenced in recent years, people living in poor and disenfranchised communities suffer injustices that are often closely related to the destruction, over-exploitation and other abuses of their local natural environment.

To drive lasting change towards environmental justice, the EJF’s  campaigns run across five key areas: the ocean, wildlife and biodiversity, climate, forests and cotton. Whether they are calling for legally binding agreements to protect climate refugees, helping grassroots organisations to enforce wildlife legislation, or campaigning governments to ban harmful chemicals, EJF stand out in the environmental law sphere in their focus on vulnerable communities.

#7 Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance

Energy and natural resources are some of the most challenging climate change issues and top level decisions in this field are often guided by economics. Based in Cambridge, the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance (C-EENRG) takes an interdisciplinary approach to tackling these challenges, with law as a technology to bring, guide and/or manage environment-driven societal transformations. Their three main axis of policy research are:

  • Climate change and policy,
  • Conservation and biodiversity policy,
  • Environmental law and governance.

Over the years, C-EENRG members have pursued diverse research portfolios on questions such as environmental governance and international economic law, the principles of international environmental law, the impact of conservation initiatives on biodiversity and livelihoods, the law governing energy transitions, the food-energy-water nexus, the impact of EU law on planning regulation, the impact of intellectual property rights on environmental governance, global climate negotiations, global biodiversity governance or the role sovereign wealth funds, to name but a few.

A final note

This Earth Day and a year into the pandemic, many lawyers may wonder how they can make a difference for the planet. Long a stronghold of environmentalists and scientists, climate change is now everybody’s business and the above organisations show that the law can be used to make the planet a better place to live in. As Lord Sales, Justice of the UK Supreme Court said in 2019, “The climate change horizon is getting closer.” Support one of our environmental law champions today and let’s make a difference together.



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