June 10, 2021: Five Polish citizens are taking their government to court over its failure to protect them from the impacts of the climate crisis.
They say the state has breached their rights to life, health and family life by delaying action to cut national carbon emissions and propping up the coal industry.
The first three cases were filed on Thursday in regional courts across Poland by Monika Stasiak, Małgorzata Górska and Piotr Nowakowski.
Nowakowski, who lives in a forest in Wielkopolska, is worried that stronger storms and forest fires are increasingly threatening his home and safety.
Stasiak and Górska both run tourism businesses in different parts of Poland that have been affected by changing rainfall patterns in very different ways: one has suffered from intensive drought and the other flash flooding.
Stasiak told the Guardian the birth of her son had also motivated her to fight for climate action. “When my child was about 18 months old the  IPCC report came out. It moved me and I decided I didn’t want that future for my child.”
Two further cases will be filed later in the month by Piotr Romanowski, a farmer who has lost half his revenue after the land became too dry for his plants to survive, and 18-year-old climate activist Maya Ozbayoglu.
The claimants are being represented by the international environmental law charity ClientEarth and the Polish law firm Gessel. It will be the first time national climate policy has been directly challenged in a Polish court.
They will argue that the Polish government has been negligent in failing to act swiftly enough to cut emissions and aim to show how individuals have already been affected by climate change. In addition to well-recognised domestic rights to life, health, privacy and family life under Polish civil law, the cases will try to establish the legal right to a safe climate.
The claimants want the Polish government to commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels, and to being climate neutral by 2043. This is more ambitious than EU targets.
Poland has so far proved reluctant to phase out polluting coal, because the industry employs about 80,000 people and is politically influential. But the high price of European carbon permits and the increasing reluctance of banks to fund coal projects are on the verge of making it uneconomic.
In April, the Polish government announced plans to nationalise dozens of coal plants, saying it would divest from polluting fuels and free up money for state-owned energy companies to invest in greener alternatives.
But it remains the only member of the EU refusing to commit to climate neutrality by 2050 and foresees the continuation of coal mining until 2049. The government is defying an injunction by the top European Union court to shut a lignite mine in Turów.
ClientEarth lawyer Janusz Buszkowski said he hoped the Polish judiciary would have the courage to deliver strong judgments in these new cases. “The time is changing. A few years back such a case would be considered a legal fantasy, but now we have many examples in other jurisdictions that they can be successful and they can drive change.”
ClientEarth has already brought several lawsuits against Poland’s coal-fired infrastructure. Two years ago, it blocked the development of new coal power station, Ostrołęka C, by suing the operator for failing to manage climate-related risks as part of a major investment decision. Unable to get financial support, the plant is being dismantled.
In another case against Bełchatów, Europe’s biggest and most polluting power plant, the operator was ordered to work with ClientEarth to find a solution to cut emissions. This week, Polish authorities announced plans to wind down the plant over the next 15 years.