Earth Day: Look East for hope of a sustainable future

April 22nd is Earth Day, the annual event that aims to raise awareness of the importance of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century to keep the global temperature below 1.5°C. It calls for us all to work together to reflect on what we can all do to preserve and protect our health, our families, and our livelihoods.

The event has been running since 1970 and more recently, hope for a sustainable future has been spurred on by a growing groundswell of public opinion for change, driven by passionate calls from high-profile activists such as Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough.

It is an opinion Weatherbys has long shared. As a business we have become carbon neutral and have committed to being net zero by 2027. We also launched our Creating The Future (CTF) event in 2018 to stimulate discussion and debate about important issues that will affect our clients and future generations of their families.

Creating The Future

At our 2019 CTF event, we were privileged to have as a guest speaker, James Thornton – someone we admire for his environmental work and who was described by The New Statesman as one of the 10 people who could change the world.

James admits his life is dedicated to defending the Earth. He says: “Nature in its richness has a right to thrive and endure. It has over three billion years of wisdom to share. Our civilisation will live well only if we learn to harmonise with the natural world and fulfil our ambitions within nature’s complex, delicate, resilient rules. We must protect nature as we protect our own eyes, as the president of China recently put it.”

His work reaches far and wide through the environmental charity he founded, Client Earth. The charity works with people, campaigners, governments and industry to tackle environmental challenges across the globe – whether it be supporting legal action against the Ghanaian government’s decision to allow the extraction of bauxite or protecting marine animals in the gulf of Venice whilst challenging key aspects of the Italian government’s policy on oil and gas exploration.

Why is China appointing judges to combat climate change?

But James offers us all another reason to hope for a sustainable future. At the start of a recent TedTalk, James posed the question: “Imagine a world in which China was an environmental leader. That would be a more hopeful world, wouldn’t it?

The question was a leading one but it perhaps shines new light on any preconceived perceptions of China’s attitude towards a more sustainable future.

Client Earth has an office in Beijing where it is a trusted partner of the Ministry of the Environment and helped bring in a law that allows Chinese environmental groups to sue polluting companies – including those owned by the state. This led to the charity training more than 1,500 Supreme Court Environmental Judges and more than 1,200 environmental prosecutors. In 2020, prosecutors brought 80,000 environmental cases, most against government departments. And in September 2021, President Xi Jinping announced that it would not fund or build any more coal-fired power stations outside China.

Some 10 and a half minutes in, James concludes his talk with his answer: “Does more need to be done in China? Certainly. A lot more and faster ­– just like in every other country. But what I’ve found heartening are all of these changes to the system that they’ve been making in recent years. We work [Client Earth] in many countries around the world but I have never seen the intense focus on systemic change, moving a country towards environmental improvements, as I’ve seen in China. I’d like to think that I’ve given you reasons for hope. China has certainly given me hope.”

About Client Earth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.