Tessa Khan’s commitment to climate justice is driven by the recognition that individuals have the power to effect change by demanding governments be accountable for their actions. She believes that the solution to the climate crisis is inherently political and that governments hold the key to the transformation required to avert climate catastrophe.
And that’s what the renowned international environmental campaigner and lawyer is pushing for now in the United Kingdom, the second-largest oil and gas producer in Europe.
Bring a complete end to oil and gas extraction in the UK by building a distributed network that escalates the momentum around declining the offshore oil and gas industry and supporting key interventions that dismantle the barriers to change.
This was not her focus, however, when Tessa received a Climate Breakthrough Award in 2018. Inspired by the landmark Urgenda Foundation v. The State of the Netherlands case, she had co-founded the Climate Litigation Network (CLN) in 2015 to compel national governments to adopt ambitious climate plans and used her funding to expand that groundbreaking initiative.
“We all have agency and we can all make a difference. The history of social change will tell you that you can win through social movements,” says Tessa, who built a connection to environmental issues having lived in Bangladesh, where her family is from, and Australia, where she grew up.
In late 2020, with CLN’s work proceeding smoothly, Tessa shifted her efforts. She founded a new organization, Uplift, which works to galvanize a movement that drives UK policymaking more in favor of more renewable energy and greater energy efficiency. Under her stewardship, Uplift and its partners have strategically built powerful pressure on the UK government and oil and gas industry to overhaul support for the industry.
They successfully pushed for an unprecedented 35 percent windfall tax rate on oil and gas companies in the country, deterring new developments. They have also mainstreamed nationwide calls for the UK to end new oil and gas extraction and have helped shift UK policy in favor of more renewable energy just within the last two years.
Tessa’s vision for change reinforces the immense power of social activism. “It’s why the work that I do, as much as possible, is informed by an understanding of how we are greater than the sum of our parts when we act together.”
Tessa Khan has spent decades supporting grassroots, regional, and international movements for justice and has served as an expert advisor to UN human rights bodies and national governments. She is the founder and executive director of Uplift, which supports and energizes the movement for a just and fossil fuel-free United Kingdom. Prior to that, she was co-founder and co-director of the Climate Litigation Network, which has successfully pioneered groundbreaking strategic climate litigation around the world.
In 2019, Tessa was named by TIME magazine as one of 15 women leading the fight against climate change. She is a member of the Board of Directors at Climate Breakthrough and is a trustee of the Global Greengrants Fund UK.
From 2013–2016 at the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development, she coordinated a network of more than 500 women’s rights organizations that successfully advocated for the inclusion of unprecedented commitments to gender equality and women’s rights in the Sustainable Development Goals. She holds a Master’s in Law from the University of Oxford.