Poland: The New Battleground For Climate Litigation

A string of climate law suits has been launched in Poland. Several legal actions against coal fired power plants in the country are putting Europe`s biggest producer of coal into the spotlight. By the end of September the NGO Client Earth started legal action against the company running Poland`s biggest coal fired power plant `Bełchatów´, which is well known for burning polluting lignite coal. But there are also other interesting cases.

 Poland is the European Member State that relies most heavily on coal for electricity production. As far as the government is concerned, this does not need to change. While a number of European countries are discussing when and how to phase out electricity production via coal, in Poland there is no end-date for coal. As far as Poland`s president Andrzej Duda is concerned, this will not change any time soon. In the run-up to the Climate Summit in Kattowice in December 2018 Duda said that Poland had coal for another 200 years and that it would be difficult for the country not to use it.

While there is, thus, little willingness to act at the top level, grassroot campaigners and NGOs have taken the fight against greenhouse gas emissions from coal fired power plants to Polish courts. The Bełchatów case is the most prominent, in which Client Earth sues PGE GiEK, a subsidiary of Polish state-owned power giant Polska Grupa Energetyczna. The NGO wants a court in the Polish area of Lodz to order the company to stop burning lignite in the power plant. The case also extends to two huge open-cast mines, located next to the power plant, which keep it supplied with coal. The NGO argues that their operation damages peoples` health, water supplies and the soil.

However, there have been other cases in recent months in Poland. By August 2019 the same NGO successfully blocked the construction of the planned coal-fired power plant Ostrołęka C. The case was well-designed and challenged the investment decision of the board of the relevant company to invest in the construction of the plant. The NGO argued successfully that the investment plan was flawed and that shareholders of the company would be subject to untolerable investment risks.

But the government has decided to fight against this push from NGOs and locals. By the end of September plans of the government  surfaced that would allow the national government to consent to requests for building permits for new coal-fired power plants without the need to obtain consent from local authorities. The energy minister of Poland  Krzysztof Tchórzewski made no secret of the fact that this special legislation will be introduced because of the growing local resistance against new coal-fired power plants.


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