ClientEarth, on behalf of a private citizen, brought an action against the Polish government alleging human rights violations for their failure to protect the citizen from the worsening effects of climate change. The case names the State Treasury as the defendant, represented by Minister for Climate and Environment, Minister for State Assets, Minister for Development, Labour and Technology, Minister for Infrastructure, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Minister for Funds and Regional Policy. The plaintiff asks the court to determine the defendant's liability resulting from the public authorities’ allowing the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) from the territory of Poland in excess of the ‘fair share.’ The plaintiff alleges this resulted in violations of the right to enjoy the value of the natural environment, including the right to live in stable and safe climatic conditions, health, respect for the place of residence, the right to privacy and respect for family life.
The claim was brought by ClientEarth pursuant to Article 61 § 1(2) of the Polish Code of Civil Procedure on behalf of M. G., who they claim was wronged by the actions of public authorities resulting in the infringement or threat to her personal rights. The alleged conduct of the State authorities, for which the State Treasury bears responsibility, consists of a series of acts and omissions which have the effect of allowing excessive GHG emissions from the territory of the State, contributing to the deepening of the global warming effect leading to irreversible and dangerous climate change which directly affects the plaintiff. The plaintiff claims she is already suffering from the effects of climate change, which have a clear impact on her life at her place of residence. These include, in particular, heavy rainfall, prolonged droughts and extreme weather phenomena such as thunderstorms, fires and gusty winds, which spread fire and cause sandstorms, all of which are damaging to human health. The plaintiff claims these events are unprecedented in relation to previous decades, when similar phenomena were characterised by much lower frequency, scale, and intensity.
Poland is among the largest emitters within the European Union, ranking among the top three member states in terms of total CO2 emissions, emissions per capita and emissions in relation to GDP. In terms of climate policy, Poland also ranks among the lowest in international climate rankings, and its progress in reducing GHG emissions is assessed as incompatible with the Paris Agreement. Regardless of the results of the completed strategy, the fulfilment of the climate commitments of the European Union adopted for 2030 is considered to be at risk.
The plaintiff alleges that the actions of public authorities leading to excessive GHG emissions are unlawful, which is the premise of Article 24 of the Polish Civil Code. Further, they result in a threat to fundamental human rights, guaranteed inter alia by the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Member States are obliged to respect these rights not only by refraining from violating them, but also by taking measures to ensure that they are respected (so-called positive state obligations). However, adverse climate change caused by high emissions significantly interferes with individuals' ability to exercise such fundamental rights as the right to life (Article 2 ECHR) and the right to respect for private and family life and home (Article 8 ECHR). The plaintiff alleges that actively contributing to the exacerbation of the dangerous phenomenon of global warming is also in breach of numerous constitutional norms, including the obligation to prevent the negative effects of environmental degradation on health (Article 68(4) in conjunction with Article 68(1) of the Polish Constitution) and to protect the environment and ensure ecological safety for contemporary and future generations (Article 74(1) and (2) of the Polish Constitution). This action is also contrary to the principles of social co-existence, including the rule prohibiting causing harm to another.
The plaintiff seeks remedies based on a ‘fair share’ analysis for Poland. The analysis presented by the plaintiff found that in order to make an equitable contribution to meeting the 1.5oC goal of the Paris Agreement, the Polish State must: (i) reduce national GHG emissions by 61% by 2030 (below 1990 levels); (ii) reach net zero emissions by 2043; and (iii) not exceed between 2020 and 2043 the carbon budget attributable to Poland of 4.1 Gt CO2eq.
On June 11, 2021, the District Court in Łomża found itself not competent to hear the case and transferred the case to the District Court in Warsaw for examination. ClientEarth appealed, and on September 8, 2021, the Court of Appeal in Białystok reversed the decision of the District Court in Łomża. Thus, the case has been returned to the Regional Court in Łomża for examination.