In a first for Poland, young climate activists—together with one grandfather—are suing their notoriously coal-friendly government for imperilling their futures by failing to act on the climate crisis.
The Polish citizens “argue that extreme weather events exacerbated by the warming of the planet are threatening their individual rights and their livelihoods,” writes Bloomberg Green. The plaintiffs are demanding that Poland slash its emissions 60% from 1990 levels by 2030, and that it achieve carbon neutrality by 2043.
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While such climate litigation was “a complete fantasy” in Poland only a few years back, Janusz Buszkowski, lead lawyer on the case, told Bloomberg there has been a seismic shift in outlook in recent years.
“Examples of climate litigation with spectacular results outside of Poland were an encouragement for us,” he said.
Buszkowski’s firm, Client Earth, is pursuing two additional climate action cases in Poland on behalf of concerned citizens like 56-year-old grandfather Piotr Nowakowski, who says the national government is failing him, his children, and his grandchildren.
“Nowakowski has seen how stronger storms and forest fires are increasingly becoming a threat to him and his home, while he has to dig deeper wells to find water,” writes Bloomberg.
Poland is the EU’s largest eastern economy, and also its most carbon-intensive, “with about 70% of the electricity it generates coming from burning coal,” the news agency notes. It’s also “home to 36 of the 50 most polluted cities in the bloc.”
The needle isbeginning to shift toward climate action, however, with Poland recently pledging “to join EU efforts to cut emissions 55% by 2030, compared to 2019 levels.” On its home turf, the government “wants to reduce coal usage to as little as 11% in 2040” and, in a truly monumental step, has negotiated with coal unions to shutter the country’s last coal mine by 2049.
Polish coal interests are also feeling the heat in an escalating legal dispute with the Czech Republic. The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) writes that the European Commission has joined forces with the EU member state, which had earlier asked the courts to force Poland to close its controversial Turów coal mine, which is “depleting water resources and endangering houses across the Czech and German borders in breach of EU laws.”
Explaining that the mine had been “operating illegally for over a year,” the EEB notes that “the court case was triggered by the Czech government in response to Poland’s decision to grant Turów a licence extension to 2026, and mine operator PGE’s request for a further licence extension to 2044”—when neither a public consultation nor an environmental impact assessment, both required under EU law, had taken place.
Saying that “the game is up” for the Turów mine, Riccardo Nigro, campaign coordinator for coal combustion and mines at the EEB, stated that “mining operations must immediately cease in Turów, and the Polish government should get serious about moving beyond coal and securing a just transition for coal communities.”