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Kelsey Skaggs    

Co-Founder of the Climate Defense Project

Attorney Kelsey Skaggs is the Executive Director of Climate Defense Project. She represents climate activists and brings legal tools to bear in the fight for climate justice.

Recognizing that existing environmental law is ill-suited to respond to the climate crisis and that the grassroots climate movement lacks adequate legal support, Skaggs made the unconventional decision to found Climate Defense Project with two classmates immediately after graduating from Harvard Law School. She is pioneering a new model of movement-based legal support—support that unites disconnected groups and helps communities take control over their future. Climate Defense Project now operates across the United States and in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Climate Defense Project is the only organization in the United States dedicated to defending climate activists. Its attorneys develop cutting-edge legal strategies for the climate movement such as the climate necessity defense, which argues that a defendant’s actions were justified by the need to avert a greater harm. Climate Defense Project worked to win the first written opinion allowing the use of the climate necessity defense at a jury trial in the United States.

Skaggs brings a new voice to the legal community and to the climate movement. Born and raised in the wilderness of Alaska, she has seen the impacts of climate change firsthand. Prior to attending law school, she coordinated a program to provide pro bono legal assistance to indigent survivors of gender-based violence in Alaska. She has worked on environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest, on international environmental policy at Universal Rights Group in Geneva, and in defense of free speech activists at Media Legal Defence Initiative in London. As a second-year law student, she launched the first lawsuit to compel an institution to divest from fossil fuel companies.

Skaggs’ awards include the Harvard Law School Public Interest Seed Grant, the Echoing Green Climate Fellowship, and the Straubel Leadership Award. She was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 Law and Policy list in 2019.

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