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ClientEarth Communications

11th May 2022

Climate accountability

Why five Polish citizens are taking their government to court over climate change

Five Polish citizens are taking their government to court over its ‘regressive’ climate stance and failure to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The claimants include a farmer, a plant wholesaler, an ecotourism business owner, parents and a youth climate campaigner, all impacted directly by the intensifying weather events the country is seeing as climate change worsens. The cases launched in June 2021.

Get updates on the cases

Poland’s climate failings

To comply with its commitments under the Polish Civil Code and human rights law, the Polish Government must reduce the country’s emissions by 61% by 2030 (on 1990 levels) and reach net-zero by 2043. Yet the Polish Government is one of a minority of EU governments which has failed to announce any long-term strategy to meet its obligations under the UNFCCC Paris Agreement and it is currently ranked near the bottom of international rankings on climate effort.

Poland continues to rely heavily on coal – the most climate-damaging fossil fuel – with no end in sight. The Polish Government foresees coal mining continuing until 2049 – 20 years after the date scientists have said is the absolute deadline for coal-burning in Europe. At an EU level, the Polish Government is lagging far behind other EU Member States and it is the only EU Member State not to commit to reaching climate neutrality by 2050.

The legal cases

After starting to see the impacts of climate change first-hand, five Polish people are going to court to protect themselves and call on their government to take ambitious climate action. They cannot wait any longer.

Małgorzata – one of the claimants – explains:

I believe that Polish politicians have been passive for too long. The time for talking and thinking is over and the time for action has come.

Małgorzata’s eco-tourism business has been impacted by increasingly heavy rainfall in the region. Last year, flash floods damaged property, flooded her basement and polluted her water supply.

Another claimant, Piotr Nowakowski, lives in a forest and stronger storms and forest fires are an ever-increasing threat to him and his home.

I fear for the future, I fear for the future of my sons, my farm. I am filing this lawsuit because the Polish government is doing nothing to prevent this situation, to prevent climate change.

ClientEarth is supporting the claimants in their cases.

ClientEarth lawyer Sophie Marjanac adds: “Climate change is having tangible impacts on people in Poland, today, and will only worsen in future. The government must take responsibility and reduce Polish emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement to protect the claimants from the severe effects of climate change.

“These lawsuits make it very difficult for leaders in Poland to ignore the serious effects of climate change in their country. The Polish Government must guarantee people the right to a healthy environment and the right to live in a safe and stable climate – it has a legal duty under its civil code and under human rights law to do so.”

The legal challenges make the case that everyone has the right to live in a healthy environment including a safe and stable climate and this right is under threat due to the Polish government’s lack of action to reduce emissions.

The first hearing

The first hearing in the first case, that of Małgorzata Górska, took place on 11th May 2022, in the court of Łomża, a city in Eastern Poland. ClientEarth attended the hearing together with Małgorzata and GESSEL Law Firm. No ruling was made on the day.

Photo credits: Grzegorz Wełnicki/ RATS Agency

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