As climate scientists issue urgent cautions about the future of our planet, climate activists are growing increasingly resolute in their efforts to bring about change, regardless of the consequences. Their demonstrations are becoming more contentious and disruptive as they strive to capture the attention of lawmakers, major corporations, and the general public in order to safeguard the planet’s future. As the intensity of these protests rises, so does the potential for legal repercussions. However, legal experts are beginning to express their support for climate activists, as evidenced by 140 prominent lawyers signing a “Declaration of Consciousness”.

On March 29, 2023, a group of legal professionals called “Lawyers are Accountable” released a document titled “Manifesto of Awareness” proclaiming:

Out of moral conviction, they will cease providing their legal assistance for (1) newly established fossil fuel initiatives and (2) legal proceedings involving nonviolent climate activists.

The signatories to the Declaration include 140 prominent lawyers from the United Kingdom and around the world, including many from countries in the Global South who will face the worst impacts of the climate crisis, such as South Africa, Australia, Mexico, Guyana and the Philippines.

Lawyers acknowledge their involvement in contributing to the destruction of the climate.

The press release in which the group outlined their intentions highlighted the contribution of the legal sector towards climate destruction. They reference the $1.62 trillion worth of transactions within the fossil fuel industry that were made possible with the support of lawyers between 2017 and 2022.

They contend that legal professionals should not only stop supporting the fossil fuel industry but also decline to assist in the prosecution of peaceful climate change protesters, which is becoming more prevalent.

Melinda Janki, Attorney-at-Law in Guyana and declaration signatory, said:

“I implore my fellow legal professionals to unite with me and other attorneys who are at the forefront of the battle to uphold the principles of justice and safeguard our nations and environment against the harmful consequences of fossil fuels. I urge you to take a firm stance and refuse to be accomplices in the destruction of our ecosystem and the inevitable loss of human lives.”

Police and courts have been targeting climate protesters who are advocating for peace.

Groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil, and Insulate Britain are intensifying their campaigns to gain backing for improved climate practices. However, they frequently encounter forceful police responses and excessive legal penalties. This year, four activists from Just Stop Oil were found guilty of obstructing a road in London, resulting in charges of public nuisance. As a consequence, the group of individuals received a total of 260 hours of unpaid labor and were collectively required to pay £7,500 for legal expenses.

Earlier this year in Germany, demonstrators who were attempting to protect the village of Luetzerath from being demolished to make room for a new coal field allegedly faced severe physical assault by German law enforcement, resulting in a minimum of 20 individuals being hospitalized.

One week before the release of the declaration by Lawyers are Responsible, reports from Australia stated that two German students are set to be deported back to their native land for blocking access to Sydney’s seaport. Federal Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, seemingly missing the point, denounced the actions of the two Germans as “attention-seeking”.

The assistance of legal professionals, like those in Lawyers are Responsible, is crucial as activists worldwide strive to prevent humanity’s path towards disaster.

Shell, the perpetrators of climate change, have been defeated by activists and lawyers.

Dutch fossil fuel giant Shell, who place 7th in global rankings for greenhouse gas emissions by companies between 1965 and 2018, produced 32,498 million tons of CO2 equivalent during this period. While they claim to be aiming for carbon neutrality through a transition to green energy by 2050, they are accused of greenwashing and playing fast and loose with the truth surrounding their climate practices. While they claim to be working towards achieving net-zero, they contradict themselves through continual new investment in oil and gas projects. The International Energy Agency stated in 2021 that no new oil and gas projects were compatible with achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Photo by Jethro Carullo on Unsplash
Shell asserts that they are making efforts to achieve net-zero, yet they persistently allocate significant investments in the oil and gas industry. (Image: Jethro Carullo / Unsplash)

ClientEarth, a group of environmental lawyers who hold a stake in Shell, presented an argument to the English High Court based on conflicting practices. They claim that Shell lacks an appropriate plan to meet climate goals while the rest of the world shifts away from fossil fuels. The group argues that if Shell fails to transition to clean energy effectively, it risks being left behind as fossil fuels become obsolete. This is a valid concern for investors. The lawsuit targets Shell’s 11 directors and sets a precedent by holding corporate directors accountable for not adequately preparing their company for the transition to net zero emissions.

This is a prime example of collaboration between activism and the legal field to address climate destruction instead of endorsing it. It offers optimism for future advancements in this area, with the assistance of organizations such as Lawyers are Responsible.