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Euroviews. This is what Poland has to do to become the climate leader the EU needs

Environmental activists, many of them students, rallying in Warsaw, September 2021
Environmental activists, many of them students, rallying in Warsaw, September 2021 Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
By Zuzanna Rudzińska-Bluszcz, Human rights lawyer, and Marcin Stoczkiewicz, environmental lawyer
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

If Poland wants to prepare for the negative impacts of climate change and retain its economic competitiveness, it needs to start by adopting its own climate law., Zuzanna Rudzińska-Bluszcz and Marcin Stoczkiewicz write.

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If the EU wants to reach its climate goals, Poland will have to play a key role. But Poland is the only EU member state yet to commit to reaching climate neutrality by 2050. 

If Poland wants to prepare for the negative impacts of climate change and retain its economic competitiveness, it needs to start by adopting its own climate law.

It’s been four years since the EU announced it would become a climate-neutral economy by 2050 — a goal that will be impossible to reach without its third-biggest carbon emitter falling in line.

Poland has long been labelled a climate laggard in the EU — and it’s earned that reputation from being the only EU member state holding out on committing to reaching climate neutrality by 2050. 

It is currently ranked near the bottom of international rankings on climate efforts.

Coal reliance still chokes renewables uptake

But the government is still making glacial progress in reducing its reliance on dirty and expensive fossil fuels. 

Poland relies heavily on the most potent of fossil fuels, with more than 70% of its power coming from coal. 

AP Photo/Petr David Josek
Steam rises from a power plant located by the Turow lignite coal mine near the town of Bogatynia, January 2022AP Photo/Petr David Josek

The Polish government foresees coal mining continuing until 2049 — a complete rebuke of scientists who have repeatedly said coal needs to be urgently phased out.

Meanwhile, the uptake of renewables has been slow. A prohibitive rule effectively blocking any new onshore wind since 2016 has now been changed

But a last-minute amendment derailed the initial commitment, which means that much fewer onshore wind projects can start quickly.

What are Poland's goals?

Poland’s apathy on climate is bad news not only for the climate but also for people. 

That’s why ClientEarth launched a series of lawsuits in 2021 to protect Polish men and women who are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. 

But there is a way forward for the government too.

The country has yet to adopt its own climate law. It’s slowly but surely becoming an outlier in the EU on that front.
Yves Herman/AP
Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki looks at his mobile phone as he attends a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, December 2020Yves Herman/AP

Poland can become a climate leader — but only with the right set of goals to work towards. Right now, this set of goals is almost non-existent.

The country has yet to adopt its own climate law. It’s slowly but surely becoming an outlier in the EU on that front. 16 EU member states, such as Hungary, France and Spain, already have theirs. 

Other EU countries, such as Slovakia, are in the process of developing such laws.

Poland needs a climate law — and we have a proposal

Our organisation, ClientEarth, has drafted what could become Poland’s climate law. 

It’s a wide array of climate measures that will deliver not only emissions reductions but also lower ever-spiralling electricity bills and establish good-paying jobs.

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Our draft follows what’s been done in other countries. It’s a framework that leaves room for those in power to determine the path to climate neutrality. It’s also technology-neutral. 

And crucially, it introduces strong control mechanisms to ensure what the law sets out to achieve is implemented.

AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski
Environmental activists, many of them students, rallying in Warsaw, 24 September 2021AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

Some of the measures in the draft law include setting a legally-binding target for Poland to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest; earmarking at least 1% of GDP a year to climate protection; and introducing an obligation to check whether large investments harm the climate.

Other involve establishing an independent statutory body to provide science-based advice to the government on climate policy, similar to the UK’s Climate Change Committee, and recognising the right to a safe climate.

That also includes the right to be protected from the effects of adverse climate change, as well as the right to require public authorities to comply with their legal obligations relating to climate protection.

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Poland can make or break the EU’s climate ambitions

Polling data commissioned by ClientEarth shows that there is broad public support not only for the introduction of stronger climate measures in law (69% of Poles approve), but also for the specific measures we’ve included in our draft. 

A legally-binding timeline to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is supported by 73% and allocating 1% of GDP to the fight against climate change by more than three-quarters of Poles (76%).

The need to introduce a climate protection law also has the support of the Polish environmental sector, with "The Climate Coalition", formed by 26 environmental NGOs, supporting such a law.

In Poland, where the rule of law has been in crisis for years, social organisations are increasingly required to replace the state in its duties.
AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk
People walk on the beach along the Vistula River in Ciszyca, near Warsaw, 27 July 2022AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk

During Climate Week in Warsaw, happening this week, we are engaging in discussions with policymakers to get their support. 

By putting this draft law on the table, we’re doing what the government should be doing. 

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This is just one of many examples showing that in Poland, where the rule of law has been in crisis for years, social organisations are increasingly required to replace the state in its duties.

As Poland is experiencing longer-lasting droughts, sudden heavy rainfall and storms, it’s high time that the country’s leaders have a legally-binding climate plan that sees Poland move from being a laggard to a leader when it comes to the climate crisis.

Zuzanna Rudzińska-Bluszcz is a human rights lawyer and the head of ClientEarth in Poland. Dr Marcin Stoczkiewicz is an environmental lawyer and the head of legal group at ClientEarth, an international environmental law charity.

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