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ClientEarth Communications

22nd November 2021

Fossil fuels

How have we fought against coal in 2021?

During COP26 in November, leaders around the world made pledges to phase down coal. But this isn’t enough. The world needs clear legally binding deadlines and targets to phase out coal.

There are currently over 200 coal plants left in Europe and governments in the EU still hand out billions in subsidies that prop up coal every year. So during 2021 we’ve continued to take new cases across the continent, challenging the coal industry and paving the way to cleaner energy.

And we’ve made big strides. Here are some of our 2021 wins against coal.


Spelling the end of Europe’s biggest coal plant…

We launched a lawsuit against Belchatow – Europe’s biggest coal plant by far, and one of its biggest greenhouse gas emitters. The court ordered the operators of the plant to work with our team to reduce their climate impact. Now the Polish authorities have announced Belchatow will close earlier than planned.

…and its enormous mines

Despite the economics for coal collapsing, the operators of Belchatow have also been trying to dig another new mine, Zloczew, to keep feeding the power plant beyond 2030. As well as being catastrophic for the climate crisis, this mine would have displaced 3,000 people, destroying 33 villages and countless farms, homes, schools, chapels and more. Coal has a human impact as well as an environmental one.

Fortunately, our action with FrankBold and Greenpeace Poland, supporting local residents, has put an end to this plan. The Polish authorities cancelled the permit it needed to go ahead.

We’ve exposed greenwashing in the coal industry

Coal is not clean. This is an indisputable fact but there are, unbelievably, markets where coal is advertised as an eco-friendly product. One example is Poland, where some companies have been selling “eco-pea” coal – coal for domestic boilers that is promoted as more eco-friendly than other types. We disproved this, took legal action and we’re now advocating for the name to be dropped.

We helped protect people from coal pollution

We supported German residents to challenge the country’s newest coal plant, Datteln IV, which has been built on the doorstep of a children’s hospital and hundreds of homes. The court ruled that permission to build the plant was granted illegally. Our second legal challenge remains in the pipeline which, if successful, will likely mean that Datteln must cease operation.

What’s next for ClientEarth’s fossil fuels team?

Cutting coal from the energy sector is one – necessary – way of drastically reducing global greenhouse gas emissions so we must keep moving forwards towards a future built on clean, renewable energy.

This means we’ll keep fighting in court to close coal power plants and secure a future for those who have been employed in the coal industry – a low-emissions future. It means we’ll keep exposing misleading advertising by fossil fuel companies and we’ll keep advocating for bold government action against coal.