ClientEarth on their landmark victory at Italian Lake Vico and using the law to protect the planet

Lake Vico © Stefano Fiaschi / Creative Commons


ERF have recently partnered with ClientEarth, an environmental law charity. ClientEarth recognise that; “We rely on nature to provide us with food and clean water, and to prevent flooding and other extreme weather effects… loss of nature and biodiversity is putting immense pressure on the delicate ecosystems that sustain all life on Earth, leaving people’s human rights at risk.”

2023 saw a landmark victory for environmental protection, when ClientEarth took legal action against Italian authorities on the case of a protected nature site, Lake Vico. Lake Vico, which is rich in biodiversity and serves as a source of drinking water for local cities, has suffered from catastrophic pollution due to the intensive hazelnut farming in the Lazio region. Fertilisers and pesticides are used in abundance to guarantee the largest amounts of hazelnuts are cultivated each year, and they are entering the lake in dangerous quantities.

The continuous build-up of these fertilisers created toxic conditions in Lake Vico, harming and killing off nature and wildlife and making the water – normally used for public consumption – undrinkable.

In May 2023, together with Lipu-Birdlife Italy, ClientEarth filed an appeal challenging the Lazio region, the Water Service Authorities and the municipalities of Ronciglione and Caprarola near Rome. It stated that they failed to comply with EU and national laws and take steps to protect Lake Vico and the people dependent on its resources. And, in October 2023, the Italian Council of the State ruled in favour of ClientEarth and against the Lazio region, ruling that it must act to safeguard Lake Vico. The Council of State’s ruling is final and cannot be appealed, and the authorities are now being forced to take long overdue action.

On their work, ClientEarth note that; “The law has an immense power to shape the world around us – from the way governments and businesses behave to the systems of energy, transport and agriculture we all rely on. ClientEarth is using this unique power to bring about fundamental change to the complex systems and sectors that are essential to tackling the nature and biodiversity crises.”

They point out that destructive and extractive human practices have led to global wildlife populations to plummet by almost 70% since 1970 contributing to rising levels of instability and growing social and economic inequality.

Additionally the World Economic Forum issued a report in January stating biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse as one of the top three risks over the next decade. According to the same report, half of global GDP – $44 trillion – is dependent on nature to some extent, and biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse could result in a decline in global GDP of $2.7 trillion annually by 2030. An economic downturn on this scale would have a grave impact on human rights; from access to food and water to adequate shelter, social well-being to equality.

“Systemic change like this needs coordinated action at a global scale. At the heart of ClientEarth’s work and theory of change are legal systems and rule of law. It is one of the most effective levers for sustained environmental transformation – creating, strengthening, and enforcing the right rules to support a healthy planet where nature and people can thrive together.”