William Nattrass William Nattrass

How a Polish coal mine risks derailing the EU’s climate strategy

Turów coal mine (Getty Images)

Cracks are appearing in the EU’s climate strategy. An international dispute over the court-ordered closure of a coal mine on the Poland-Czech Republic border has thrown divisions over how to phase out fossil fuels into sharp relief, leading to the first ever environment-related lawsuit between two EU member states.

The Czech Republic has taken Poland to the European Court of Justice to oppose the extension of a licence for the Turów coal mine on Poland’s south-western border with the Czech Republic and Germany. The Czech government said that continued operations at the mine constitute a risk to the health of Czechs living nearby due to air pollution and reduced groundwater supplies.

The ECJ upheld the Czech complaint and ordered Poland to immediately cease operations at the mine. But Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has refused to listen to the court, arguing that closing Turów would cost thousands of jobs and severely disrupt the country’s energy supply.

The Turów case has opened a rift in the EU’s environmental approach which will prove difficult to heal

It is easy to see why the Polish authorities are reluctant to comply with the court order to close one of its biggest energy suppliers. Coal accounts for 65 per cent of Poland’s energy supply, and the country is by far and away the EU nation most dependent on coal for power. Mining at Turów is responsible for around 5 per cent of Poland’s power and the mine employs around 5,000 people. As Morawiecki said, ‘stoppage would mean an ecological disaster as well as an energy disaster, and, consequently, huge social problems’.

Poland’s particular reliance on coal is becoming a major concern for the EU in its attempts to reach its emissions targets. The bloc has agreed to cut emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 and achieve net-zero by 2050, but Polish politicians are lashing out at what they see as a blatant disregard for Poland’s energy security and economic prosperity.

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