James Thornton’s specialty is suing governments and corporations on behalf of his only client – the Earth – and he’s very good at it. In his four decades of legal practice across three continents, he’s never lost a case.
Acknowledging this in 2009 the New Statesman named him one of the ten people likely to change the world; ClientEarth, the public interest environmental law firm he started in London in 2007 now employs 106 people.
Thornton has been in Australia to talk about his work and his new book, Client Earth, which he co-wrote with his partner Martin Goodman. When I met them in Sydney, Thornton was keen to discuss his unlikely adventure in China, while Goodman, usually a reserved Englishman, enthused about the unexpected hope he found while writing Client Earth.
First invited to Beijing in 2014 to help implement China’s new law allowing NGOs to sue polluting companies for the first time, Thornton has seen how serious the world’s biggest polluter is about addressing its environmental problems. He believes their concept of “ecological civilisation” is the best formulation he’s heard for the new environmental story we must tell.