Polish Court Recognizes Climate Damage, Rules Coal Plant Operators Negotiate Closure with Environmental Lawyers
A judge in Poland has ruled that operators of the Bełchatów coal plant – Europe’s single biggest emitter of carbon pollution – must negotiate a settlement with environmental lawyers that brought a lawsuit last year over the coal plant’s destructive environmental and climate impacts.
The ruling, which followed a hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 22 in the District Court of ŁódĽ, could put the Polish coal facility on a path towards closure. Lawyers for the environmental law charity ClientEarth argued that closing the Bełchatów plant’s coal operations is necessary in the face of the climate crisis. The power plant burns 45 million tons of coal every year, equivalent to a ton every second, and has emitted over a billion tons of CO2 over its lifetime. The plant’s annual emissions are roughly equal to the total annual emissions of New Zealand.
According to a ClientEarth media release, the judge confirmed that the climate crisis and real and must be acted upon, a first of its kind determination for courts in Poland. “We all see the damage climate change is doing. We all breathe the same air,” the judge said during the hearing.
Per the court ruling, ClientEarth and the Bełchatów plant operators must reach a settlement in the next three months. ClientEarth lawyers have demanded that Bełchatów close 11 of its 12 coal units by 2030 and the last by 2035, according to the media release.
“This ruling 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,” said Marcin Stoczkiewicz, head of ClientEarth’s Central and Eastern Europe operation.
ClientEarth filed the lawsuit almost exactly a year ago, on September 26, 2019. The environmental law NGO described it as 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.” The case included claims under Polish civil law that recognizes the environment as a common good and allows organizations to challenge environmentally destructive activities.
“Belchatow Power Plant has provided Poland with vital power for decades but times have changed,” Stoczkiewicz said. “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.”