Polish citizens taking their government to court over the climate
Five individuals have taken legal action against the Polish authorities, complaining of their indolence in the face of the climate crisis, whose effects are manifesting themselves even as we speak. The ClientEarth Foundation and GESSEL are providing legal support to the claimants in their quest to move the Polish government to decisive action protecting the environment, including climate neutrality by 2043 and reducing greenhouse emissions by 60% by 2030.
“The climate crisis is a fact, right here, right now, in Poland in 2021. Specific people are suffering as a result of climate change in this country: farmers whose crops are destroyed by drought, parents worrying about a safe future for their children, people whose property is at risk of flash floods and tornados. These are tangible costs, and unless and until the government and its economic decision makers do something to counteract a climate catastrophe, they will continue to grow”, explains Dr Marcin Stoczkiewicz, a lawyer with ClientEarth.
Polish government neglecting climate policy
There is no arguing with the fact that the climate is getting warmer, also in Poland, traditionally classified as a temperate climate zone. How does this manifest itself ? We need look only to the ever-higher heat records and ever-longer heat waves in the summer, the long droughts, or the sudden weather phenomena oftentimes bringing local flooding and wind damage.
Poland’s reduction emission goals are among the least ambitious in the EU. What’s more, as the think-tank Instrat points out, even such modest climate programmes as have been adopted are not being effectively implemented.
“Global warming also poses a new challenge for lawyers. Here at GESSEL FOR CLIMATE, we decided to take an active pro-climate stand in the legal field. Traditional legal institutions are being redefined to bring them up to par with the new climate challenges in the global courts, to mention only URGENDA or the recent SHELL case. We’re keeping up with these changes and sharing them on our special LinkedIn account, and we do what we can to bring home the point that the Polish legal system also needs to acknowledge these new societal needs and effectively accommodate them. This is where these five claims come in” – Dr. Beata Gessel-Kalinowska vel Kalisz, senior partner, GESSEL.
What are the claimants after ?
Well, they’re not after money. Rather, they would like to see the court declare the state’s responsibility for ensuring climate security and to obligate it – as represented here by the Polish State Treasury – to take measures bringing Poland onto the path of CO2 reductions called for by scientists and mandated under the international obligations accepted by Poland.
The specific measures called for in these claims were defined, among other means, by analysing the actions, and omissions, of successive Polish cabinets and of the current and projected effects of climate change in Poland. The claimants would like to see Poland commit itself to climate neutrality by 2043, to a 60% reduction (from the 1990 level) of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and to not exceed its allocated emissions budget of 4,1 Gt CO2 equivalent (as of 2020).
Climate change is already affecting Poles – First climate claims lodged with the courts by Polish citizens
The defendant is the Polish State Treasury, represented by the ministers competent for matters of environmental protection, energy policy, transport, investments in the energy sector, and sustainable development. The general rule in Polish civil procedure is that the State Treasury is liable for actions, and failure to act, of the central administration.
The claims are constructed around violation of the legally protected personal interests of the claimants. The ClientEarth Foundation (supported in the legal aspects by GESSEL) is representing them as the formal plaintiff, and aims to argue that the personal rights of the claimants have been put at risk by a government which continues to abide emission levels that are precipitating climate change, exposing humans and ecosystems to very real danger.
The GESSEL Green Team: Dr. Beata Gessel-Kalinowska vel Kalisz, Maja Frontczak; Dr Joanna Kisielińska-Garncarek; Łukasz Ostas; Barbara Tomczyk; Piotr Zarkadas, Erazm Dutkiewicz; Dr Natalia Niklińska, Izabela Bukowińska and Zuzanna Domańska.