by Martin Goodman and James Thornton
“Sue the b*****ds!” That late-1960s catchcry of American environmentalists to arouse the public conscience resonates in the work of James Thornton through the charity he founded in 2008, ClientEarth, to ensure implementation and enforcement of environmental laws. Thornton, however, is less shrill and more strategic, which is to be expected from a lawyer who is also a Zen Buddhist priest. As chief executive of the Britain-based public-interest environmental law group, he advised the Chinese Supreme People’s Court on the interpretation of the 2015 Environmental Protection Law, which allows citizens to sue polluters.
In the chapter “Setting up in Brussels”, Thornton says ClientEarth had to have a presence where EU countries went to make laws, because the contest between industry and environmentalists was uneven: the former had sophisticated legal representation, unlike the NGOs.
We learn about the group’s work in marine conservation, air quality, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity, among other issues, as well as the importance of the Paris Agreement in protecting the commons (the global atmosphere, in this case). Throughout the book, one message is clear: “If you pass a law and do not enforce it, you in effect authorise the behaviour you sought to prohibit.”