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ClientEarth Communications

27th September 2019

Fossil fuels

Challenging Poland’s flagship coal plant

The EU’s biggest coal plant is in Poland. Belchatow power plant is five times the size of the average plant and, with its surrounding mines, it's visible from space. It has become symbolic of Poland’s high CO2 emissions. There is no place for a plant this huge and this dirty in Europe, which is supposed to be spearheading the global climate fight.

That’s why we've taken a legal case against the plant, to stop the harm it does to people and nature.

An offender on many fronts

Damaging the climate

This plant is one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. According to official data provided to ClientEarth, carbon dioxide emissions from the Belchatow power plant have been consistently rising. So far, the plant has emitted about a billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, the equivalent of the sum total of Poland’s national emissions for three years. The European Commission even dubbed it “the most climate-damaging power plant in the European Union".

While it’s the biggest coal plant in the EU, Belchatow is also the biggest lignite coal plant on the planet. Lignite – also known as ‘brown’ coal – is the dirtiest form of coal.

Expanding the mine

Brown coal plants are fed by nearby mines because transporting the heavy, wet coal is so difficult. So Belchatow power plant is served by two huge open-pit coal mines: Belchatow and Szczercow. As the first ones are exhausted, the operators are trying to dig another, the Zloczew mine, which would displace 3,000 people. This would mean the destruction of 33 villages, including highly specialised modern farms, homes, schools, shops, chapels and fire stations. The nearby population is having to fight for their land, as mines threaten to take it over.

Polluting the soil and water

Lignite coal mining also has detrimental impacts on land and water, including groundwater pollution and soil degradation. This is due to multiple factors including the release of tonnes of toxic heavy metals. For example, operations at the Zloczew mine alone would release five tonnes of mercury, 26 tonnes of cadmium and 168 tonnes of lead – all known neurotoxins and carcinogens – into the environment every year.

Why owner PGE GiEK needs to clean up its act

Belchatow is a notorious ticking timebomb for our climate. That’s why, in 2018, we launched the awareness raising campaign "iCo2dalej", which requested that PGE GiEK – the company that owns Belchatow – take immediate action to reverse its climate impacts. Over 10,000 people have signed the petition calling for an immediate reduction in CO2 emissions. Since then, we have seen little to no action being taken by the operator.

This September, we filed an unprecedented lawsuit against PGE GiEK. Belchatow must stop damaging the climate, water and soil of the region, Poland – and further afield. Our case is against the plant operator, because it is ultimately responsible for the extensive damage the plant and mines do to our climate and environment.

Over the decade it has been active in Poland, ClientEarth has successfully blocked the development of multiple problematic coal plants as well as halting logging in the ancient Bialowieza Forest, along with a coalition of NGOs.

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