Breaking: EU’s biggest coal plant must negotiate closure with environmental lawyers, court decides

Media release

22 September 2020

A judge has demanded the operators of mammoth coal plant Bełchatów negotiate with environmental lawyers ClientEarth to swiftly reduce its impact on climate. The decision came in a landmark court hearing in the District Court of Łódz today.

ClientEarth’s case argued that under Polish civil law, the climate and environment are a common good that legally must be protected. The lawyers demanded that Bełchatów close 11 of its 12 coal units by 2030 and the last by 2035.

The judge confirmed for the first time in a Polish court that the climate crisis is real and must be acted on. This is a revelatory development for environmental actors.

She told the two parties to find a settlement within three months.

The Bełchatów power plant burns a tonne of coal every second and has approximately the same annual carbon emissions as New Zealand.

Head of ClientEarth’s Central and Eastern Europe operation Marcin Stoczkiewicz said: “This decision is a major breakthrough for the environmental movement. It puts environmental experts at the table with coal companies, to find a solution that genuinely works for the climate. This is a signal to the people of Poland that the health of the country and the planet is more important than coal.”

ClientEarth’s case, against Bełchatów power plant and two of its mines, is based on the damage the operations do to the climate, as well as the desertification of the area resulting from Bełchatów’s use of water, and its pollution of the soil and air.

ClientEarth published a report last week that showed that Poland has already exceeded its share of the carbon emissions that would keep global warming to 1.5C, and is set to overshoot the limit for 2C By 2035, the report says, around 38% of the country’s carbon budget would be taken up by Bełchatów’s operations.

ClientEarth previously published a report with economics thinktank WiseEuropa illustrating the extent of the subsidies poured into Bełchatów with no return other than the continued destruction of the climate – and no shift towards clean energy. The report showed that the money spent on Bełchatów was enough to finance two entire Baltic windfarms.

Ilona Jędrasik, Energy lead for ClientEarth Poland, said: “It is absolutely crucial that the Polish government embraces the reality of today’s energy market and provides the people of this country a credible roadmap. We need to see money being spent wisely and as an investment in a healthy future – not dark clouds on the horizon. Miners have invested their lives powering Poland for decades – we now need to secure them and our communities a future beyond coal.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

Belchatow is the EU’s biggest coal plant. It burned 32 million tonnes of lignite, the dirtiest form of coal, last year.

ClientEarth initiated this legal action in September 2019. It is a completely innovative use of Poland’s civil code, which ClientEarth argued should allow NGOs to take legal cases on behalf of the environment – a common good.

The charity is demanding that the owner of the plant (Polska Grupa Energetyczna Górnictwo i Energetyka Konwencjonalna S.A (PGE GiEK)) cease activities posing a threat to the environment – namely the burning of lignite.

ClientEarth based its case, and recommendations for the closure of Bełchatów’s units, on data and public documents, reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), expert advice on the environmental impact of the Bełchatów complex and economic analyses demonstrating the efficiency of replacing lignite in the Bełchatów Power Plant with cleaner energy sources.

ClientEarth recently won its case to stop large new coal plant Polnoc being built, working with many local residents and farmers.

The judge decided today that ClientEarth and PGE GiEK must reach a settlement within three months. If they cannot, the case could end up back in court.

In the courtroom, the judge said: “We all see the damage climate change is doing. We all breathe the same air.”

Poland’s energy transition is a national polemic. The country’s most recently released draft energy strategy inches the projected coal phase-out forward, but remains vastly out of touch with the rest of the EU.

While much of the debate centres around jobs and economic security, groups like ClientEarth argue that failing to plan for the inevitable and imminent future beyond coal is a disservice to long-serving miners and mining communities.

Instrat and ClientEarth recently published a report showing that green investment could generate up to six times more jobs in the Bełchatów region than is currently provided by the lignite complex: 61,000, compared to 10,000 at present.

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.

Contact:

Ellen Baker +44 (0)203 030 5951| ebaker@clientearth.org

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