In May 2022 the biggest climate justice litigation case in the history of Poland had its first court hearing.
After positive developments in similar worldwide cases like in the recent case against Shell in the Netherlands, Poland has its chance to speed up green energy transformation - this time for real, not only on corporate slides.
Update: PGE response to the court's question on the preparation of a decarbonisation strategy [read more]
Greenpeace Poland has been fighting to speed up the green energy transition and to phase out fossil fuels since 2004, the year Greenpeace Poland was created. Climate justice litigation launched against the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in Poland, owner of Bełchatów and Turów power plants - PGE GiEK is part of the broader global effort to fight climate crises. The first court hearing in the biggest climate litigation case in the history of Poland is just about to take place.
Burning fossil fuels drives the climate crisis we are facing. The urgency to speed up the green energy transition and to phase out fossil fuels has been underlined among others by the latest IPCC report urgently calling for near-term actions to limit global warming to 1.5°C in order to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis. We need to speed up green energy transition. Everyone needs to do its job, including Poland and its biggest emitters burning fossil fuels, especially coal.
Greenpeace activists protest on the PGE-owned Bełchatów power-plant
On the eve of Climate Summit COP24 in Katowice, Greenpeace activists climbed a 180 meter-high cooling tower at PGE-owned Belchatow power plant, the largest climate polluter in Europe and one of the largest lignite power plants in the world, to demand coal phase out by 2030. The call for action was based on the IPCC special report on 1,5°C.
Greenpeace announced that it will file a lawsuit against PGE if it doesn't implement measures based on climate science
Day after GP activists ended their protest Greenpeace Poland announced that it would take legal action against PGE GiEK if the company does not take appropriate measures to fight the climate crisis and move away from coal
Calling for climate action
Infuriated by the direction the COP24 was heading, Greenpeace activists called upon decision makers to take action to tackle climate crisis by projecting on the COP24 building “Politicians talk - leaders act” and “No hope without climate action”.
Rainbow Warrior and activists blocked import of coal in Gdańsk
During a spectacular non-violent action, activists painted "Stop coal" on the side of a huge cargo ship transporting imported coal to Poland as well as blocked the loading of the coal pier of the Gdańsk port. Activists were found not guilty of any charges and the court ruled justified that their action served the society.
We knew the message was heard in the government, but we wanted it also to be heard by the PGE, so we've decided to tackle the change also from within...
In February 2020, the director of Greenpeace Poland, Paweł Szypulski, offered PGE his skills to finally make it a progressive company and help it responsibly face social and market demands regarding the move away from coal.
In June 2021 a group of activists appeared at the General Assembly of PGE with a message “Stop destroying our future” and once again calling on PGE CEO Wojciech Dąbrowski to take real action towards coal phase out by 2030.
The lawsuit was filed in March 2020. It is the biggest climate litigation in the history of Poland and part of the broader worldwide effort to bring the biggest emitters to the court and to justice. There are more such cases out there but one of the most prominent and successful ones to be mentioned was the case launched by environmental NGOs (including Greenpeace) in the Netherlands against Shell. As a result of this lawsuit Shell - worldwide oil & gas giant which was ordered by the court to reduce its direct and indirect emissions by 45% by 2030.
PGE GiEK is without a doubt the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in Poland. It is responsible for approx. 20% of all CO2 emissions generated in Poland by all sectors of the economy. It is also responsible for the vast majority - almost 90% of PGE group CO2 emissions. PGE GiEK is also the owner and operates the biggest coal power plant in Europe - Bełchatów power plant, which is the biggest single source of CO2 emission in Europe.
PGE as a group (not mentioning PGE GiEK itself), despite its announcements, has not changed its course over the last years and is still ignoring climate change.
Following facts prove that:
- During last years absolute CO2 emissions of PGE were not declining. In 2021 they were 19% higher than in 2020. In 2022 it remained on almost the same levels as in 2021.
- During the last 7 years the PGE group spent only 4% of its investments on renewable energy sources (in 2021 it was 4%)
- During the last 7 years there was not a single year when PGE would produce more than 5% of total electricity from RES.
To complement the picture, it is worth to notice, that PGE GiEK was still developing new coal fired units in Opole (2 blocks, 900MW each, total costs approx. PLN 11.8 billion) and in Turów (496MW, total cost approx. PLN 4.3 billion). The contruction in Turow was still happening in 2021. PGE GiEK was doing so against world trends, not considering the climate crisis and climate policy of the EU and foremost against the will of Poles of whom 76% is in favor of coal phase out by 2030. PGE GiEK still operates two lignite pit mines (Bełchatów and Turów) and aims to prolong the concession for one of them till 2044.
In July 2020 PGE GiEK responded to the lawsuit filed by Greenpeace Poland. The reply was full of climate myths which Greenpeace exposed to the public. PGE GiEK basically denied the scientific consensus around climate change and the company's role in contributing to it
PGE announced in 2020 its new strategy with the objective of reaching climate neutrality by 2050. The group has just ended the first full year (2021) of its implementation with CO2 emissions 19% higher than in 2020 and with a negligible share of RES in the electricity production (3,8%). This so-called “strategy” is used by PGE GiEK as an excuse not to act because of being part of a wider plan.
But when we look at the plan in detail, it quickly occurs that the PGE group is willing to dispose of all coal assets and transfer them to a new company, which will be established based on… PGE GiEK. In other words, PGE GiEK as a base for the new entity will keep its coal power plants and coal mines and shall get additional ones. And all of this without any dates and targets for PGE GiEK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Everything will stay as it is and will further contribute to the climate crisis and threaten our future.
The suit is relying on article 323 of the Environmental Protection Law. In accordance with the article, where unlawful environmental impact causes a threat to or violation of the environment as a common good, an ecological organization has a claim for the restitution of a lawful state of things and implementation of preventive measures — in particular through the mounting of installations or devices protecting against the threat or violation, and if the foregoing is impossible or excessively difficult to achieve, then a claim for cessation of the activity causing the threat or violation. These preventive measures, which we can demand, are important and we use them. In Poland it is not permissible to be relieved of the aforesaid liability by demonstrating the compliance of enterprise activities with the legal order.
As an ecological organization we demand
- that the company stop any new coal or lignite investments,
- develop and publish a strategy for reducing CO2 and other greenhouse-gas emissions so as to achieve, by 2030, net zero emissions from coal- or lignite-fired installations,
- and actually implement the aforesaid strategy, achieving the above goal in 2030 at the latest.
The climate urgency has been underlined by the last IPCC report “Climate change 2022, Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Summary for Policymakers”. In the summary for policymakers, it says “Near-term actions that limit global warming to close to 1.5°C would substantially reduce projected losses and damages related to climate change in human systems and ecosystems, compared to higher warming levels, but cannot eliminate them all”. Everyone has to do its part.
Alignment with Paris agreement
Paris-aligned scenarios for Europe and especially for Poland, like the one lately published by Climate Analytics, show no room for coal in the power sector energy mix in 2030. We know, from the analysis we've done, that the year 2035 would be business as usual for closing existing coal power plants in Poland. In other words - by asking to achieve net zero emissions by 2030, which would be in line with climate science, we are not speaking about new reality, but only about speeding up the already existing process. Most of the European countries have already set a date for coal phase out. Poland remains without such a date.
Responsibility of the biggest polluters
PGE GiEK is without any doubt the biggest GhG emitter in Poland and a significant emitter in Europe and worldwide. Till now PGE GiEK did not present any dates for phasing out coal from its energy mix. PGE’s (parent company) strategy announced does not present such dates either. The PGE’s plans only assume getting rid of coal assets and moving them to another entity, which, according to current best knowledge, would be created on the basis of PGE GiEK.
In the spring of this year, the first court hearing of the largest climate litigation case in the history of Poland was held. The court obliged the owner of the largest coal-fired power plants in the country to decide on the preparation of a decarbonisation strategy. The PGE owned PGE GiEK has decided that it will not prepare such a strategy, justifying the decision by the governmental plan of establishing the National Energy Security Agency (Narodowa Agencja Bezpieczeństwa Energetycznego - NABE). The Agency is supposed to gather the biggest coal-fired power plants, however, the process of creating it remains unclear and by the design, NABE’s goal is to only support the transfer of ownership, not the climate protection. Thus, the biggest emitter in Poland, under the ownership of PGE, continues to ignore the environment, the ongoing climate crisis, and the future of the Polish people. It makes us continue the fight for the climate in court and beyond. Currently, we are waiting for the next hearing date to be set.
On May 18th 2022 the first court hearing took place. As a result the judge ordered PGE GiEK to decide, till August 10th 2022, if the company is going to prepare a decarbonisation strategy. If so, such a strategy should be developed by January 2023. Greenpeace argued that the company needs a plan to reach net zero emissions by 2030 in order to stop contributing to climate change. By now, the company has not given any dates and targets to reduce its emissions and does not have a decarbonisation strategy in place (this is also not addressed by the PGE group’s strategy). The judge gave PGE GiEK a chance to decide if it is going to develop such a decarbonisation strategy. The case has been suspended. The court will decide on further steps when PGE GiEK takes the mentioned decision by August 10th this year.