Pacific Islanders Bid To Stop Czech Coal Plant

Date of publication: 
12 January 2010

PRAGUE – A small pacific island state’s challenge to a Czech coal-fired power plant extension some 6,000 km away on grounds it could harm its environment could open a new front in the fight over global climate change.
Micronesia has filed a plea with the Czech environment ministry using a measure designed originally to settle disputes between near neighbors but which could spur others to do the same when opposing power plants, environmental advocates said.
“This is part of a new phase in environmental law,” said Tim Malloch, a climate and energy lawyer at London-based ClientEarth.
Micronesia noted CEZ’s coal-fired plant at Prunerov in the north of the republic was the 18th biggest source of greenhouse gases in the European Union, emitting about 40 times more carbon dioxide than the entire Pacific island federation.
The Transboundary Environmental Impact Assessment request also argued that Prague has failed to provide and asses all potential impacts and possible alternatives to minimize adverse affects of power plants — something Micronesia said was required under Czech law.
“The Federated States of Micronesia is seriously endangered by the impacts of climate change, including the flooding of its entire territory and the eventual disappearance of a portion of its state,” Andrew Yatilman, director of Micronesia’s Office of Environment and Emergency Management wrote.
“...The commissioning or retrofit of any large coal power plant could play a relevant role in the destruction of the entire environment of our state.”
Disappointment with Copenhagen
The request also underscores disappointment developing nations have over a weak United Nations climate deal agreed in December that for states like Micronesia did not go far enough.
More importantly, it could offer a legal weapon for environmental advocates and developing nations looking to mitigate the future impact of climate change, Malloch said.
“The Micronesia request is really important coming so close after the disappointment of Copenhagen,” he said. “This is the first confrontation you are going to see between the developing and developed world. It goes right to the heart of what was the problem at Copenhagen.”
The accord — weaker than a legally binding treaty and even weaker even than the ‘political’ deal many had foreseen — set a target of limiting global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times.
This is seen as the threshold for dangerous changes such as more floods, droughts, mudslides, sandstorms and rising seas. Carbon dioxide is blamed for fuelling global warming.
A spokeswoman for the Czech environment ministry said it received the request late into the assessment process but would take into account Micronesia’s concerns.
One hurdle for Micronesia is that it is not party to a U.N treaty on environmental impact assessments signed by 30 countries, including the Czech Republic, said Jan Rovensky, who is tracking the case for Greenpeace in the Czech Republic.
And while CEZ will likely receive a green light to extend the plant, Micronesia’s example may spur a nation that has signed the treaty to use the same tactic and take the fight to an international court, he added.
“It is quite a good precedent that shows other countries can try to influence decisions in other nations that might affect them,” Rovensky said. “That is quite important.”