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Polish people take their government to court as climate impacts hit home

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Polish people are taking their government to court over its failure to protect them from worsening climate impacts. The cases are the first to expose the emerging effects of climate change on people living in Poland and ask the courts to find that the country’s inadequate climate policies violate individual rights.

The country is already seeing droughts, wildfires, severe flooding and crop failures due to changing weather patterns and these impacts will worsen with further global heating.

Five individual cases – three of which were filed today, with a further two to be filed later this month – are being brought before regional courts, seeking to take the national government to task over its ‘regressive’ climate stance and failure to slash emissions.

The claimants include a farm owner, a plant wholesaler, an ecotourism business owner, parents and a youth climate campaigner, all impacted directly by the intensifying weather events the country is seeing as climate change worsens.

The claimants are supported by environmental law charity ClientEarth and leading Polish law firm Gessel.

The claimants will ask the court to find that the Polish Government must commit to a 61% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (on 1990 levels) by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2043.

Piotr Romanowski, one of the claimants, is a farmer, father and 40-year resident of the Warmia region of Poland. Last year, he lost revenue after the land became too dry for part of his nursery stock of shrubs and bushes to survive.

He said: “I can see climate change, and feel it on my own skin and the skin of my farm. Among other things, I am losing water. There are three ponds on my farm – all three are practically dry already.

“I fear for the future, the future of my sons and my farm. I am filing this lawsuit because the Polish Government is doing nothing to prevent this situation, to prevent climate change.”

 

The Polish Government is notable internationally for its outdated stance on climate action. Poland still produces 70% of its electricity from coal, the most climate-damaging fossil fuel worldwide, and subsidises it heavily – PLN 8bn (€1.75bn) from the public purse is set to go to fossil fuels in 2021. The country is home to one of the world’s biggest coal power plants, Bełchatów, which emits approximately as much carbon dioxide each year as Slovakia.

 

The Polish Government foresees coal mining continuing until 2049, 20 years after the date scientists have set as the absolute deadline for coal-burning in Europe. Its reliance on fossil fuels is a sticking point in EU policymaking – and it has recently positioned itself on opposition to an EU court decision demanding a halt to the operation of the Turów mine.

 

Małgorzata Górska, from the Podlaskie voivodeship, runs an ecotourism venture with her husband. It is being affected by flash flooding, which has damaged her home and property and polluted their water supply.

She said: “I decided to take this lawsuit because the time for talking and thinking is over and the time for action has come. I believe that Polish politicians have been passive for too long – they have not taken action to protect us, the citizens, from climate change. I believe that this is currently the greatest challenge facing politicians and the greatest threat to humanity.”

 

The claimants are aiming to prove an infringement of their fundamental rights due to the Polish government’s conspicuous lack of action to protect the climate by reducing emissions. They are among the first in the world to ask a court to find that climate inaction violates their  right to a healthy environment, which the claimants argue includes the right to live in a safe and stable climate.

The cases will hinge on Polish civil law but also make reference to ECHR human rights provisions.

The cases aim to force ambitious policy by the Polish Government and make clear that the legal right to live in a stable climate exists, and can be upheld in court.

ClientEarth lawyer Sophie Marjanac said: “Climate change is having tangible impacts on people in Poland, today, and will only worsen in future. The government must take responsibility and reduce Polish emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement to protect the claimants from the severe effects of climate change.

 

“These lawsuits make it very difficult for leaders in Poland to ignore the serious effects of climate change in their country. The Polish Government must guarantee people the right to a healthy environment and the right to live in a safe and stable climate – it has a legal duty under its civil code and under human rights law to do so.”

 

The Polish government has long been labelled a climate laggard, and its outdated position has left it the only EU Member State not to commit to reaching climate neutrality by 2050.

 

The rate of emissions reduction in Poland has lagged far behind other EU Member States, putting it near the bottom of international rankings on climate effort.

 

Ilona Jędrasik, ClientEarth energy lead in Warsaw, said: “The Polish Government is setting regressive policy that is seemingly blind to the dramatically shrinking carbon budget, and Poland’s significant contribution to global emissions.

 

“Our government can take three steps to show it is serious about climate change: commit to a date when the country will stop using coal for electricity, rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60% by 2030, and get to net zero emissions by 2043 to ensure that the goals of the Paris Agreement are met.

 

“Even some energy companies in Poland are acting faster than the government, investing in developing renewables. Our leaders’ position is directly at odds with reality, and with the needs of the people – this is why we’re turning to the courts.”

The formal defendant is the State Treasury 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, Minister for Funds and Regional Policy.

ClientEarth, a not-for-profit legal group, is able to represent the claimants under an article of Polish civil law that allows individuals to delegate legal action to an NGO for the purposes of environmental protection.

Three cases have been filed today (Monika Stasiak, Małgorzata Górska and Piotr Nowakowski) with the other two (Piotr Romanowski, Maya Ozbayoglu) to follow imminently.

Sophie Marjanac is an Australian-qualified lawyer.

Claimant profiles

 Małgorzata Górska, ecotourism business owner, Podlaskie Voivodeship

 Małgorzata has been living near the border of the Biebrza National Park for 15 years. Together with her husband, she runs an ecotourism business on their farm. They were the first tourist facility in the Podlaskie Voivodeship to be awarded the Polish Ecotourism Certificate.

But increasingly heavy rainfall is threatening her home and livelihood. The rain now creates a temporary river knee-deep and several metres wide. This started happening around eight years ago and is becoming more frequent – last year it happened twice in one summer, waterlogging the terrace of some of the tourist dwellings, flooding her basement and polluting her water supply. As well as these dangerous flash floods, drought conditions in the region are on the rise, increasing the risk of wildfires in the nearby Bierbrza Valley peatlands.

 

Piotr Romanowski, plant nursery owner and farmer, Warmia

 Piotr Romanowski lives in a region which was once lush, fertile and dotted with ponds. On his farm, he runs a nursery selling shrubs and trees. Now, water levels in the region are down. Last year, he lost stock because his land dried out. The increasingly unstable and unpredictable climate is affecting neighbouring farms too – adapting crops to climate change can be difficult and uncertain. Piotr worries about his sons and the difficult future they face.

Piotr Nowakowski, grandfather, Greater Poland

 Piotr Nowakowski lives in a forest in the Greater Poland region. Stronger storms and forest fires are an ever-increasing threat to him and his home. The same drier conditions making forest fires more frequent mean he has had to dig a deeper well for water. Piotr says the Polish Government is failing him, his children and grandchildren, so he is taking them to court.

Maya Ozbayoglu, youth climate activist, Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship

 Maya doesn’t know what her future holds. She often wonders if there is any point in studying. She believes the Polish Government is condemning her and other young people to an unstable and frightening future with more fires, floods, unstable weather, rising food prices and a wave of refugees fleeing the climate crisis. She began attending climate protests when she was 15 – she believes the lack of decisive government action is a threat to health and life.

Monika Stasiak, mother, Łódź Voivodeship

 Over the past years, Monika has been suffering with her community through intensive droughts and reduced water levels in the Pilica River. Low river levels have meant local ferries were unable to run, and neighbouring farms have suffered crop failures from increasing drought. The continued degradation of the local environment has meant Monika and her husband have had to abandon their plans for a tourism business. The river, a kayaking hotspot, is no longer consistently deep enough for the boats. Monika fears the future her son will grow up in. She worries that if we don’t stop climate change, people will be forced to struggle for survival as water and food availability become an issue.

About ClientEarth

 ClientEarth is an environmental law charity that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.

 

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Editorials

The “Myth” of Independence (When in Reality, We are Interdependent)

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The disastrous burden of exploitation and the plundering of ill-distributed wealth is a historical burden whose influence on backwardness, misery and neglect is an indisputable argument for rejecting the claims of independence and freedom of the ruling castes, who are primarily responsible for the shameful conditions in which the future of the peoples is plunged.

Without sustainable development for all, it is not valid to boast of independence.


The Tale of Independence

Claudia Aranda
(Image by Claudia Aranda)

Independence festivals celebrate the greatest myth in history.

The dates represent only a symbolic reference in the course of history, which is why the Independence festivities, celebrated in these days of September in some countries of the continent, should become a turning point; a turning point in the right direction and the beginning of a new era for the peoples who observe, with a mixture of envy and hope, the advances in other corners of the planet.

Latin America has suffered genocidal dictatorships, foreign invasions marked by economic and geopolitical interests, devaluation and annihilation of its millenary cultures, plundering of its natural wealth and constant intervention in its development plans by financial organisations controlled by the great world powers. However, the moral strength and the yearning for freedom of their peoples are the decisive resources for consolidating that real and concrete independence for which they all yearn.

The examples of economic, industrial and cultural development in some of our nations show how a potential value can become a tangible reality, provided that the political actions of their leaders are underpinned by a firm resolve to fight for their homeland. In this sense, the defense of and respect for the constitutional rule, the consolidation of the rule of law, the recognition of the intrinsic human and cultural values of their communities and the firm purpose of achieving Latin American unity, the only possible way to face the challenges of globalisation, are essential.

To boast of independence when our political castes are capable of negotiating the future of generations with entities whose interests are totally opposed to development – such as the World Bank – and subjected to the arbitrary conditions of powerful governments, focused on making the most of their institutional and political weaknesses, is an insult to intelligence. It is therefore imperative to update concepts and to understand that a country’s freedom to decide on its present and future is a pending issue throughout the third world.

The celebration of national independence has become established as a populist device and needs to be thoroughly revised. Military parades, so typical of the image of strength and power imprinted in the collective imagination, are today one of the most serious offences against peoples who have experienced the cruel repression of military dictatorships, a dark shadow that stains the history of all our countries. Patriotic pride should not rest on weapons or violence, but on culture, traditions and unrestricted respect for human rights.

The disastrous burden of exploitation and the plundering of ill-distributed wealth is a historical burden whose influence on backwardness, misery and neglect is an indisputable argument for rejecting the claims of independence and freedom of the ruling castes, who are primarily responsible for the shameful conditions in which the future of the peoples is plunged.

Without sustainable development for all, it is not valid to boast of independence.

Source: Pressenza

Carolina Vásquez Araya

Journalist and editor with more than 30 years of experience, whose professional achievements in the development of highly successful projects endorse her qualities of leadership, creativity and public relations. She has contributed her knowledge in projects of organizations with interests oriented to the social, cultural and economic development of the country, with special emphasis on the sector of culture and education, entrepreneurship, human rights, justice, environment, women and children. She is Chilean in Guatemala. elquintopatio.wordpress.com

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Editorials

Screen addiction, there’s still hope

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Screen consumption by girls, boys and young people is rising in the scale of concern among mothers, fathers and education professionals about the risks that it entails in the mental health of this age group. Attention is the starting point and therefore there is still hope.

By Marco Trivelli, Seed Foundation, Santiago, Chile

The business objective of the applications is to generate addiction in such a way that people are interacting with the platforms for as long as possible. With more hours in front of the screen, the greater the audience to whom to expose to the publicity.

Like the gambling, tobacco, sugar, alcohol or trans fat industries, social networks have no incentive to limit consumption and face the dilemma of privileging the common good and protecting their consumers or being carried away by greed by appealing to the freedom to develop economic activities whose only limitation is not to transgress morals or good customs.

In an investigation of the prestigious Wall Street Journal newspaper carried out on the basis of studies carried out within Facebook, the largest and most powerful social network in the world, they found that there was a list of powerful characters to whom the rules of conduct were not applied and therefore the posts were not lowered or their accounts were suspended. Facebook thus avoided the bad publicity of censoring a powerful and generated traffic or views.

Famous is the case of soccer player Neymar who responded to an accusation of rape by publishing intimate images and texts on his WhatsApp without consent and which were later replicated on Facebook and Instagram. They had 56 million views before being downloaded from the web.

Internal Facebook documents also revealed the damage Instagram is doing to the mental health of millions of young people around the world. Instagram is toxic for one in three young people with an effect on eating disorders, anxiety, depression and suicides. Even when these results were generated by the company itself, Instagram defended itself by pointing out that the network did more good than bad.

The United States Congress has requested to know the internal studies carried out by Facebook as have academics and independent study centers, but the company has refused to do so, noting that the results are not conclusive. The answer turns out to be the same as other industries gave in the past.

Becoming aware that the risks of screen addiction in children and young people is decisive for their future is an excellent opportunity for the problem to be addressed in the political processes that we are experiencing in Chile. The screen requires regulation.

At Fundación Semilla we believe that self-regulation or regulation by the State is essential, but not enough. Formal and family education needs to be redesigned by offering constructive and entertaining alternatives. As a personal testimony, I can point out that the spring wind that blew on the national holiday weekend allowed us to fly a large kite together with my grandchildren. We all enjoyed ourselves and were away from the screen for an entire afternoon. Regulation and creativity gives us hope in the task of preventing screen addiction.

Marcelo Trivelli, Seed Foundation, Santiago, Chile

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Editorials

The Foreign Policy We Need

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Foreign policy is an essential component of any national development strategy. If it changes, external political and trade relations will have to change. Thirty years of a neoliberal strategy have led to an unmediated trade opening to the world economy, while our diplomacy has enthusiastically approached developed countries, distancing itself from Latin America and the countries of the South. The presidential candidate of the left, Gabriel Boric, announces that this must change.

By

The free-market logic that reigns within our economy has been fully deployed in the field of foreign relations. A radical opening to the world has been imposed, without protection of the internal market and without regulations in favour of sectors of productive transformation. As a result, trade policy has exacerbated export extractivism, closing off opportunities for productive diversification. Policy has been subordinated to big capital, and not only within our country, but also in our relations with the outside world. The economic policy of “every man for himself”, which destroyed Chilean industry and closed the doors to small business entrepreneurs, was complemented by an indiscriminate opening up of foreign trade.

The incorporation of our country into the global economy has not helped development. Growth, which businessmen, politicians and establishment economists have deified, has generated precarious employment, extreme inequalities, environmental depredation and the depletion of our natural resources. Foreign policy has been functional to this perverse growth. And this kind of growth has held back development.

After a few brief years in the early 1990s, when Chile strengthened its economic and political ties with Latin America, the Concertación governments became dizzy with height. They opted to privilege relations with developed and Asia-Pacific countries. Not to discuss the substantive political issues on the international agenda, but to establish economic and commercial commitments in free trade agreements (FTAs). Foreign policy was subordinated to FTAs. Thus, thanks to FTAs, developed countries and transnational corporations have secured their interests through the indiscriminate liberalisation of goods and services, as well as the extended protection of their investments and intellectual property, in exchange for access for our exports to large markets. This logic was also imposed in our negotiations with middle-developed countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and became the undisputed common sense in international organisations.

It is true that it is in the interest of small countries to open up economically to the world. The narrow internal space makes it difficult for the economy to reproduce itself more broadly. But in the case of Chile, economic expansion through FTAs with developed countries has not turned out to be a good deal (I mean for the country, for the people of Chile). Of course, the primary responsibility does not lie in trade policy, but in economic policy. Indeed, our economic policy does not encourage productive transformation or help to diversify exports and, at the same time, the unregulated opening of trade through FTAs has favoured the attraction of foreign investment, but it has done so in the primary and service sectors. Thus, the FTAs have served to stimulate extractivism, multiplying exports, but not natural resource exports.

In short, our country has consolidated a productive matrix that exports natural resources, and this has been favoured by trade policy. Thus, foreign policy, especially since the 2000s, has supported rapprochement with developed countries, distancing us from our neighbours. This policy, together with the commitments contained in the FTAs, hinders any joint efforts with the countries of the South to act jointly with the world powers on key issues on the international agenda: uncontrolled financial flows, intellectual property, corporate-state disputes, the environment, among others.

Consequently, if the Boric government promotes a change in the productive structure of our economy, it will also have to modify foreign policy and, in particular, foreign trade policy. It will have to introduce substantive changes. Whether unilateral or negotiated (FTA), it will be necessary to regulate the movement of goods, services and capital, in favour of the productive and social priorities proposed by the new development strategy. This has been well highlighted by Petersen and Ahumada, in reply to Ignacio Walker, who staunchly defends the type of globalisation promoted by Chilean governments (see La Tercera of 2 September 2021).

If effective productive diversification is to take place, both unilateral foreign trade policies and trade agreements cannot be neutral in terms of tariffs, financial capital, foreign investment and intellectual property. Discrimination should be made in favour of industrial sectors or those productive processes that add value and knowledge to the new productive matrix. Gabriel Boric’s programme proposes a review of existing trade agreements to assess their relevance to productive diversification. This is not an easy task, but neither is it impossible. This will require renegotiations that will demand goodwill and mutual respect between our country and its counterparts. This was emphasised by the presidential candidate in his meeting with the ambassadors of the European Union (7 September).

On the other hand, faced with the reality of globalisation and the uncertainties that have arisen with the new protectionism, our country will have to recover multilateralism, which is the best defence of small countries against powerful countries. But this policy will be effective if we are able to act as a whole, united with the countries of Latin America and eventually with other regions of the South. In short, a new government of transformations has the difficult task of strengthening the negotiating strength of “developing countries” to support the international agenda on issues of concern to us: protection of ecosystems, feminism, demilitarisation, peace, solidarity with migratory processes, among others.

At the same time, multilateralism in the economic sphere should aim to promote a fairer international trade and financial system, including: the regulation and control of financial transactions and tax havens; flexible and less costly forms of access to cutting-edge technologies; the reduction of deadlines for the protection of intellectual and industrial property, among other issues.

Our project as a country, and the possibility of having a greater presence in the international context, is linked to Latin America and the developing world. Chile must have a foreign policy of rapprochement and economic and diplomatic cooperation with that part of the world with which it shares interests and problems, even in the midst of the difficulties presented by regional institutions. And it should do so independently of political changes in Latin American governments. It is true that the issue is complex. Relations with the countries of the region, and in particular with our neighbours, are not easy.

Determined efforts will have to be made to attend with special concern to political and economic relations with neighbouring countries. Chile’s security and stability, and consequently our own democracy, are linked to the need to eliminate all sources of tension with our neighbours. This is of prime importance. Diplomatic, political and economic conflicts with neighbouring countries exalt chauvinism and stimulate arguments in favour of armament in certain sectors of our society, with high financial costs. Renewed bilateral efforts are therefore needed to foster mutual trust and, above all, to move forward with simultaneous demilitarisation initiatives.

Chile’s border understandings with Argentina in the mid-1990s have recently been obscured by the dispute over the maritime shelf on the continental ice. At the same time, the disputes with Peru and Bolivia, resolved at the Hague Court, do not lessen the historical resentments of Bolivians and Peruvians and Chileans. This must be overcome. It is necessary to embark on a determined path to put an end to tensions in order to ensure diplomatic rapprochement and peace between our countries.

Finally, there is the complex issue of regional integration, where serious difficulties have arisen in recent years. This sets limits to the deepening of Chile’s relations with the countries of the region and at other times leads to uncomfortable disputes. Consequently, it might be necessary to prioritise sub-national integration initiatives, between Chile’s regions with Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. This may be more effective and, in line with the decentralising interest, would allow for interesting citizen and territorial links between neighbouring countries. This, at the same time, would favour the development of mutual trust between our countries, based on regional governments and social organisations.

This does not mean renouncing plurinational integration schemes. Firstly, it is necessary to revalue ALADI, which has allowed tariff liberalisation between all the countries of the region, especially in the 1990s; but unfortunately, in recent years, it has had little political support. Second, Chile has the opportunity to play an interesting role in converging plurilateral integration initiatives between the Atlantic (Mercosur) and Pacific (the Andean Development Community and the Pacific Alliance) schemes. Finally, the new government should support CELAC as the political integration body for Latin American and Caribbean countries. And, as recently proposed by Mexican President López Obrador, CELAC should hopefully become a replacement project for the OAS.

Foreign policy and trade policy are indispensable instruments for promoting a new development project in our country. Both must intelligently accompany productive changes, as well as economic and social policies, in order to break with neoliberalism.

Source: Pressenza

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