Greenpeace International’s Legal Unit consists of a team of specialised lawyers that provide independent legal advice to the global Greenpeace network on:
– strategic litigation to advance the fight against environmental destruction
– risk management and strategic defence of campaigns, organisation and staff
– advocacy efforts to strengthen environmental and human rights
We share legal knowledge with other lawyers who work for the independent Greenpeace organisations across the globe – this includes environmental law and freedom of expression cases involving Greenpeace activists or organisations.
Interim General Counsel, attorney-at-law (Colorado)
Kristin primarily advises on the development and execution of cutting-edge legal strategies to hold governments and corporations accountable for the climate emergency. In addition, she supports strategic litigation efforts to advance all Greenpeace campaigns. Over the past 20 years, Kristin has been a part of many successful efforts calling for urgent and ambitious climate action, the rapid transition to renewable energy, and the protection of the right to a healthy environment. Kristin is one of the trustees of the Climate Justice Fund, a financial facility to support the development and use of legal avenues towards achieving global climate justice. Kristin is a registered attorney in the U.S. state of Colorado. She graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 2009 with a Juris Doctor degree and a certificate in natural resources and environmental law. She received the Hon. Pete Domenici Award for Excellence in Environmental Law and served as a student editor for the Natural Resources Journal. She is based in Boulder, Colorado.
Legal Counsel Campaigns
Charlie supports the food and forest campaigns and advises on Greenpeace International’s anti-SLAPP strategy. Prior to joining the Legal Unit at Greenpeace International, he worked as a legal consultant in Somaliland, where he worked with government ministries and state institutions to build up the territory’s justice sector in line with international human rights standards. Charlie is a member of the Bar of England & Wales and holds an LL.M. degree in international human rights law from Northwestern Law School in the USA.
Email: [email protected]
Legal Counsel Campaigns, attorney-at-law (New York)
Michelle advises campaigns on Arctic, Oil and Oceans issues. Prior to joining Greenpeace International, Michelle worked in international human rights, international criminal law and asylum law. She also has experience in EU competition law. Michelle is an attorney registered in the New York Bar and holds a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School. She is also a Dutch lawyer.
Email: [email protected]
Senior Legal Counsel Organisation / advocaat
Eef advises on contracts, intellectual property, governance, employment and strategic organisational legal issues. Before joining the Legal Unit at Greenpeace International in 2008, she worked at a private law firm, advising and litigating on a range of national and international civil law matters including torts, company law and commercial contracts. Eef has been a registered member of the Dutch Bar since 2000. She is on the advisory committee of Pro Bono Connect, a pro bono public interest clearinghouse in the Netherlands.
Legal Counsel Organisation / advocaat
Matthijs advises on organisational legal matters, building a stronger legal organisation. His expertise entails corporate governance and contract law as well as IP and employment law and Matthijs has a keen interest in legal matters relating to the Greenpeace ships and international collaborations.
Before joining the Legal Unit in 2019, Matthijs worked as an attorney-at-law in social litigation, corporate and transactional practice for 10 years. Matthijs holds an LL.B. in Dutch law and LL.M. in EU law from the University of Amsterdam and has been a registered Dutch attorney-at-law since 2010. With an interest in art and music, he is a member of a foundation for modern art and guitarist/singer in a rock band.
Legal Counsel Campaigns
Richard advises campaigns on Climate & Energy and GoodLife (Air Quality and Liveable Cities). He works on climate-related strategic litigation. He is a barrister (England & Wales, 1971) and also practised at the New York Bar (1982-2000). Over four decades his practice has focused on major human rights litigation, environmental justice, domestic and international criminal law, and post-conflict resolution. He served as lead counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia from 2007-2014. He is a member of Garden Court Chambers, London.
Senior Legal Counsel Strategic Defence, attorney-at-law (New York)
Daniel oversees the Legal Unit’s strategic defence work, which includes assessing risks of actions and publications, handling incoming litigations, and protecting the rights that the organisation needs to play its watchdog role, such as freedom of expression, association and assembly. Daniel has served in the Legal Unit, with a brief hiatus, since 2008. His other experience includes working as a legal officer at Article 19, the global campaign for freedom of expression, and as legal officer freedom of assembly, expression and information at the Open Society Justice Initiative. Daniel holds degrees in law from the University of Amsterdam and Columbia University. He has been a member of the Bar of New York since 2005 and serves on the Board of Directors of the Arena for Journalism in Europe and the Article 20 Network. He is based at the offices of Greenpeace Nordic in Copenhagen.
Associate Legal Counsel Communications, attorney-at-law (California and New York)
Amy advises on freedom of expression and media-law related issues. She joined Greenpeace International in February 2018. Her prior experience includes providing counsel to CIA torture victim Abu Zubaydah, assisting the prosecutor’s office at the UN ICTR, and litigating government contracts at a Washington, D.C. law firm. She has been consulted for her expertise, among other, by the Wikileaks media organisation and the Open Society Justice Initiative. Amy received her J.D. from Duke University and her Ph.D. from the University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law. She is admitted to the NY and California bars, and has an active U.S. Top Secret security clearance. She is based at the offices of Greenpeace Nordic in Copenhagen.
Email: [email protected]
Legal Counsel Climate Justice & Liability, attorney-at-law (New York)
Louise advises on Greenpeace’s climate justice and liability strategies. Prior to joining Greenpeace International, Louise worked in international climate policy and in Canadian indigenous and environmental law. Louise is an attorney registered in the New York Bar and holds a LLM degree in international environmental law and climate change law from the University of Edinburgh and a BCL and LLB from McGill University.
Kasey assists in the preparation of legal risk assessments, keeps track of all relevant litigation, and is in charge of the knowledge management system. Kasey also provides general administrative and logistic support and acts as the liaison between the organisation and internal & external legal networks. Kasey is the central contact for all legal enquiries from Greenpeace International staff, Greenpeace NROs and external organisations. Kasey holds a BA from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and over 10 years experience in administrative and project management.
“Lawyers can and do make a difference in campaigns to protect the planet. We advocate for fundamental rights including freedom of expression, access to information and the right to peaceful protest. We use strategic litigation to enforce environmental laws and hold both governments and corporations to account. We remind lawmakers of the legitimacy of environmental interests and the right to seek access to environmental justice.”
– Jasper Teulings, former General Counsel, Greenpeace International.
Greenpeace organisations are key players in proactive litigation worldwide to respond to environmental problems and human rights harms.
People v Arctic Oil:
In 2016, Greenpeace Nordic partnered with Nature and Youth to file a legal case against the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy. They invoked the Norwegian Constitution, international human rights and environmental law, climate science and the Paris Agreement in challenging the government’s decision to license new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic. The seniors group, Grandparents Climate Action, led by a former Norwegian Supreme Court Justice and Friends of the Earth Norway have joined as intervenors.
In a partial victory for the Plaintiffs, the Oslo District Court rejected the government’s contention that the environmental article in Norway’s Constitution does not confer a legally enforceable right. However, although he ruled that Plaintiffs have the right to a clean and healthy environment, managed on the basis of long-term considerations safeguarded for present and future generations, he held that Norway’s government has no power to prevent GHG emissions from oil and gas produced in Norway but burned abroad. He concluded that the government had no duty to limit further drilling.
The case was heard in the Court of Appeal in November 2019. The Court of Appeal handed down its judgment in January 2020, ultimately ruling for the Norwegian government, however establishing two important victories. First, it reaffirmed and strengthened the Constitutional right to a healthy environment, which places on the government a duty to also safeguard it for future generations. Second, it stated that in establishing whether the government has infringed on this right, all greenhouse gas emissions from Norwegian oil exported abroad must be taken into account. The co-plaintiffs and interveners have launched their appeal to the Norwegian Supreme Court. We expect by Summer 2020 a decision from the Supreme Court as to whether it accepts to hear this case. All case documents in English can be found here and background on the case here. A media briefing note is here.
Greenpeace Southeast Asia and others v Carbon Majors:
In 2018, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines started hearing a petition seeking to hold the investor-owned “Carbon Majors” (oil, natural gas, coal and cement companies) accountable for contributing to global emissions of GHGs fuelling climate impacts resulting in human rights harms. This is the world’s first national human rights investigation of its kind, brought by a coalition of 14 organisations, including Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines, along with Filipino farmers, fisherfolk, human rights advocates, typhoon survivors, artists and concerned citizens. The petition was filed after super typhoon Haiyan wreaked havoc in the Philippines in 2013 and is grounded in research linking a large share of global climate pollution to a small number of coal, oil, and gas and cement producers, known as the Carbon Majors.
The National Inquiry conducted by the Commission on Human Rights has become one of the most significant repositories of scientific, legal, and community evidence of fossil fuel industry’s responsibility for climate change impacts and human rights harms. The Commission held hearings throughout 2018 in the Philippines, New York City, and London as part of its investigation. It received various testimonies from community representatives, prominent climate scientists, and legal and policy experts. The evidence is available to the public on the websites of Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines and the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines.
The Commission is expected to deliver its decision in 2020. A positive outcome for the petitioners would be groundbreaking. Unlike lawsuits seeking compensation for damages, the investigation is focused on preventing further harm and could result in recommendations to policymakers and legislators concerning corporate responsibility for the climate crisis.
KlimaSeniorinnen v. Government of Switzerland:
The KlimaSeniorinnen (“Senior Women for Climate Protection”), supported by Greenpeace Switzerland, and representing more than 1000 women aged 64 and over, sent a formal legal complaint to the Swiss Government and three administrative bodies responsible for national climate policies. The elders are challenging the government’s climate policies, highlighting shortfalls that are putting their lives and future generations at risk. The authorities refused to rule on the request, so they filed their case before the Federal Administrative Court. That court dismissed the case in December 2018 on the grounds that senior women were not more likely than other citizens to experience harmful effects of climate change – despite their increased incidence of death during heat waves. The senior women appealed the case to the Swiss Federal Supreme Court at the end of January 2019. In addition to their case, they are now lobbying for human-rights-compliant 2030 and 2050 targets. This case is globally significant because it could be the first “climate case” heard by the European Court of Human Rights.
Greenpeace France, Oxfam France, Notre Affaire à Tous & Foundation pour la Nature et l’Homme v Government of France:
In 2018, Greenpeace France, in collaboration with Notre Affaire à Tous, Oxfam France, and Fondation pour la Nature et l’Homme, filed a demande préalable (letter before action) as the first step in France’s first-ever climate lawsuit. Dubbed “L’Affaire du Siècle” (the trial of the century), the lawsuit claims that the French government’s inadequate steps to address the climate crisis and its failure to implement international, European, and national climate objectives breaches national and international law, including people’s human rights. Similar to the Swiss case, this lawsuit aims to align France’s climate laws and policies with the Paris Agreement, at a minimum. Within ten days of the letter, the groups’ appeal received more than 1.7 million signatures, demonstrating widespread public support for the case. Since the authorities refused to act as requested by the letter, the co-plaintiffs filed a case in the Administrative Court of Paris on 14 March 2019. On 16 March 2019, the day after the global school strike for climate protection, which mobilised more than 1.6 million young people around the world, 350,000 people marched in more than 200 cities in France in support of the case and to demand increased climate action from the government.
The lawsuit challenges the state’s inaction on climate change and failure to meet its own goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing renewable energy, and limiting energy consumption. On 20 May 2019, the 4 NGOs filed their additional pleading in front of the Administrative Court. While they are waiting to proceed to trial, the 4 NGOs have intervened in the other French climate case of a municipality in the north of the country suing the government for climate inaction in front of the Conseil d’État (the highest administrative court).
Greenpeace Austria and individuals v Austria:
In February 2020, Greenpeace Austria and over eight thousand individuals went to the Austrian constitutional court to defend their human rights from the climate crisis. They are demanding that the government repeal certain legal provisions and regulations favouring the use of traveling by plane over taking the train, specifically VAT-exemption on international flights and tax-exemption on kerosine domestic flights. Both tax exemptions add to the problem that flying is cheaper than taking the train, although a train ride is 31 times more climate friendly than taking the plane. Every Austrian, who was able to prove that they are affected by this unjust law (f.e. by presenting an international train ticket or a Bonus Card for the Austrian railway operator) could join the class action lawsuit.
Holding your Government Accountable for Climate Change: A People’s Guide
Want to know more about strategic, human rights climate litigation? Check out act.gp/PeoplesGuide for a legal toolbox to hold your government accountable on climate inaction.
The People’s Guide is a useful tool for those considering whether to bring a human rights-based climate case against their government and build a parallel campaign in their fight for climate justice. The Guide should only be used as a stepping-stone in developing a comprehensive strategy.
Greenpeace engages in confrontational, non-violent direct action to expose environmental crimes. These actions can sometimes lead to legal action against Greenpeace organisations and activists – volunteers committed to environmental protection. Courts across the world have recognised the legitimacy of Greenpeace action and the right to engage in peaceful protest in democratic societies.
In the District Court of New South Wales, Australia, Judge Lantham exercised her discretion not to impose punishment in sentencing a case for trespass against 29 Greenpeace activists, who had graphically exposed the woeful security at a nuclear plant by penetrating it. Her Honour stated in her decision of 15 May 2002, that: “…The right to protest and the right to express publicly one’s political views, albeit by direct action, is one which is to be valued and protected in the context of modern democracy…”
In 2008, six Greenpeace UK activists were charged with criminal damage following an attempt to shut down the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent – by scaling the chimney and painting the Prime Minister’s name down the side. The jury returned a ‘not guilty’ verdict, accepting the activists’ defence that they were acting in order to defend property of a greater value from climate change, including everything from the polar ice caps to the tropical rainforests of the Amazon and the Congo basin. In 2009, plans to build a second coal-fired station at the site were shelved.
After activists briefly shut down 72 of Shell’s fuel stations in the Netherlands in 2012, in protest at the company’s plans to drill for oil in Arctic waters, Shell sought a court order banning any further actions on or near its premises. The Amsterdam District Court found that the action had met requirements of subsidiarity and proportionality, and rejected Shell’s demand. In doing so, it held that “The basic principle is that organisations such as Greenpeace are in principle free to take action and to make their views publicly known. The sole fact that such action causes inconvenience to the company targeted by the action – in this case, Shell – does not mean that such action is wrongful.”
The most high-profile recent legal dispute involving a Greenpeace action arose in September 2013, when Russian forces detained the Arctic Sunrise and its crew of 30 and charged them with piracy, in response to a peaceful protest against oil drilling on the continental shelf in the Arctic. The Netherlands – flag State of the vessel – began arbitration proceedings against the Russian Federation, relying on a file of evidence supplied by Greenpeace International. In August 2015, the arbitral tribunal ruled in favour of the Netherlands. Its ruling clearly established the principle that there is a right to protest at sea. A settlement was eventually agreed between the Dutch and Russian governments. Meanwhile, the ‘Arctic 30’ also filed applications with the European Court of Human Rights, asserting that their right to liberty and to freedom of expression had been violated.
Greenpeace regularly champions the right to free speech in its defence of the environment. On occasion, when our campaigning hits its target, companies will seek to prosecute and unreasonably restrict what we say or do.
For example, in 2002 the French nuclear fuel company Areva filed proceedings against Greenpeace France, alleging breach of its trademark in relation to the Greenpeace parody of the Areva logo that depicted the risks of the nuclear industry. In 2008, Cour de Cassation, France’s highest court, held in favour of Greenpeace France in declaring that the logo parody fell within the legitimate right of freedom of expression.
The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly recognised the position of NGOs in society as a ‘critical watchdog,’ by disseminating information and ideas on matters of general public interest such as health and the environment. In Steel & Morris v UK (2005) the Court held that, given this role, NGOs can invoke the same high level of protection as the press under the right to freedom of expression provided they “act in good faith in order to provide accurate and reliable information in accordance with the ethics of journalism…” Greenpeace lawyers play an important role in ensuring publications live up to this requirement and in defending the concomitant right to criticise.
Greenpeace knows all too well that threats to freedom of expression don’t just come from governments. Greenpeace organisations around the world have been targeted in recent years by Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) – lawsuits designed not to win on their merits but to use the litigation process to drain resources and intimidate critics into silence. Two prominent examples of these corporate attacks on Greenpeace, filed using an anti-racketeering law in the USA, led to the formation of the Protect the Protest anti-SLAPP coalition in 2018. In April 2020, one of these corporate plaintiffs – the logging giant Resolute Forest Products – was ordered to pay almost $1million to the Greenpeace defendants targeted in these attacks, in one of the highest monetary figures ever awarded under California’s anti-SLAPP statute.
A similar coalition – On Ne Se Taira Pas (We Will Not Be Silenced) – was launched in France earlier the same year with the support of Greenpeace France. The Greenpeace International legal unit is now working with advocacy groups from across Europe to build the resilience of activists and other public watchdogs to SLAPPs and legal intimidation in Europe.
Greenpeace is actively involved in lobbying for effective international environmental law to address global problems and has achieved significant successes, such as the involvement in the adoption of the UN General Assembly resolution imposing a moratorium on large-scale drift nets on the high seas and the Biosafety Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which controls the international trade in genetically modified organisms. Greenpeace also holds formal observer status at many international meetings where the fate of the planet is decided: the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the International Whaling Commission, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, among others.
Most of Greenpeace’s campaigns are either about creating or upholding laws. At many moments in our history, cases brought by us or against us have formed movements, secured campaign wins and defended democratic space. We have challenged governments and corporations and have helped shape the law to protect the Planet. Below is a tiny selection.