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282 Lawyers Defend a Client Without a Voice: Planet Earth with Elspeth Jones (Episode #117)

Today’s episode will give you hope and a sense that the tide is actually turning, if just thinking about the state of our planet makes you sad or fearful. Our guest—Elspeth Jones—is the warm, funny, brilliant Deputy CEO of an environmental law charity called ClientEarth whose main client is just what the name implies: their client is our planet! Turns out, there is a group of global lawyers whose only client is The Earth. And with a support team of experts in conservation, they are defending our planet and making real change legally binding.

Episode Highlights


About Our Guest:

After my conversation with Elspeth Jones, I felt like there was some light on the horizon when it comes to climate change mitigation. She is the epitome of someone who can give you confidence in the future—an “approachable expert”: both hard nosed and warmly inspiring.

Maybe that’s where the magic is in this terrific conversation. Listening to her made me feel like anything is possible. Most of us feel a “broken” by the relentless bad news about climate change and how we’ve trashed the earth, so it’s a gift to run into someone who feels like a bit of a superhero. 

(Wait till you hear her story of this tiny Pacific Island that took on the Australian Government and won a legal decision that will have global consequences!)

ClientEarth was founded in 2007 by James Thornton and is now operating throughout the world on environmental problems from every corner, with offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin, Beijing, Madrid and Los Angeles.

The organization’s lawyers and environmental experts use the law to hold governments and other companies to account over climate change, nature loss and pollution [6]

They take governments and big business to court – and win. 

  • They force polluting industries to shut down. 
  • They protect irreplaceable forests and vulnerable species. 
  • They empower people and NGOs with the legal rights to bring forward environmental battles of their own. 
  • Because they use the law, it means they create real, long-lasting and embedded change. 

Elspeth Jones has the ideal background for leading that kind of charge. 

She has undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in law from the University of Oxford and is a barrister qualified to practice in England and Wales. 

Before joining ClientEarth, Elspeth practiced at the commercial bar in London, specializing in commercial contracts, shipping, insurance, construction and international arbitration, and regularly appearing in court.

Elspeth has also worked as the Executive Director of the climate change and tropical forests charity Size of Wales, and spent four years as a trustee and then Vice-Chair of the Sumatran Orangutan Society.

She has all the skills and heart that someone defending our planet would need to lead a group of experts and lawyers with such a critical mission.

There is hope to be celebrated popping up in many places, and when I ran across this organization I was determined to shine a light on their work. 

The problem is not a lack of progress, it’s a lack of awareness! And today’s interview will reassure you that there are great people out there who are tackling and winning some of the most important battles for our shared future.

Resources Mentioned:

Show Notes

(00:00- 04:37) OPENING

(04:48- 13:34)

  • What is ClientEarth?
  • ClientEarth was founded by James Thornton in 2008
  • Law as a powerful tool
  • Enhance law that already exists
  • Lawyers that are qualified from all over the world
  • How ClientEarth is funded?
  • Sense of purpose

(13:35- 24:15)

  • Stories that matter
  • BOOK: The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes
  • Even a group of small people can catalyze big change in the world
  • Torres Strait Islands Case
  • United Nation’s Human Rigths Committee
  • Australia
  • A case with a lot of first
  • Yessie Mosby
  • Indonesia
  • Strict legal precedent
  • Pushing the judges in terms of their cultural thinking

(24:16- 27:21) BREAK

(27:22- 36:44)

(36:45- 43:04)

  • The gratitude economy
  • Every dollar/pound that you spend is a vote for the world that you want to live in
  • Greenwashing
  • Labels that are trustworthy

(43:05- 49:35)

  • I wish people knew
  • No one is too small to make a difference
  • ClientEarth launch a case to tackle air pollution in the UK
  • We all have different talents and there are many ways that we can deploy that change
  • Accidental niche

(49:36- 59:37)

  • Resources
  • Spreading the word
  • Unleashing the full potential
  • 12-month process of optimization
  • Leverage the law to make changes
  • Plastics plant

(59:38- 01:01:11) CLOSING

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