ClientEarth launches legal challenge to Europe's most climate-damaging power plant

By agency reporter
September 27, 2019

ClientEarth has launched a legal challenge against Europe’s largest power plant – Belchatow – and two of its mines.

Belchatow is a giant coal plant in Central Poland, burning 45 million tonnes of lignite, the dirtiest form of coal, every year, at the rate of an entire tonne every second.

Over its lifetime, the plant has emitted approximately 1 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, making it the largest single greenhouse gas emitter in Europe. Its annual emissions, roughly equivalent to the sum total of New Zealand’s, are rising year on year.

The plant is a major climate culprit but its owner, PGE GiEK, has not presented any official plan to reduce its climate impacts.

ClientEarth is demanding that the plant operators stop burning lignite in the plant – or take measures to eliminate its CO2 emissions – by 2035 at the latest.

The environmental charity's Head of Central and Eastern Europe Marcin Stoczkiewicz said: “Belchatow Power Plant has provided Poland with vital power for decades but times have changed. The largest emitters, like Belchatow, must shoulder their share of responsibility for the climate crisis. Without a rapid coal phase-out, the climate fight will be futile.”

The lawsuit leverages Polish civil law in a completely new way, focusing on the environment as a common good, which NGOs can go to court to protect. This includes demanding installations and their owners cease activities which are causing harm to the environment.

Stoczkiewicz said: “This is a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, seeking to hold coal plant operators to account for the direct impact their operations have on the planet and the surrounding environment. To protect the planet we rely on, we need to see a drastic reduction in carbon emissions and we are using litigation to accelerate the process.”

Lignite plants like Belchatow, are fed by nearby mines because transporting the heavy, wet coal is difficult. So Belchatow is surrounded by huge opencast mines. As the first ones are exhausted, the operators are trying to dig another, the Zloczew mine, which would displace 3,000 people – and release tonnes of toxic heavy metals into the soil and water. This would not only be environmentally devastating, but hugely expensive, and is being met with fierce opposition. In a separate case, ClientEarth is challenging this mine.

Head of ClientEarth Poland’s energy team Ilona Jedrasik said: “The damage this mine would cause, socially and environmentally, cannot be overstated. It is a catastrophe, not just for the thousands of people whose way of life would be bulldozed to make way for it, but for the landmass it will destroy – and all to feed a hugely polluting coal plant. From seismic tremors to chemical leakage, it is extremely hard to see how PGE can justify this project.”

* ClientEarth works to protect the environment through advocacy, litigation and science


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.