Last update:
2018-01-29

Gubin Brody lignite mine, Poland

The towns of Gubin and Brody on the Polish-German border proposed as a location for new open pit lignite mine became the epicenters of the anti-coal movement in Poland.


Description:

Poland gets 90% of its electricity from coal, much of it domestically produced. Polish government’s draft energy strategy favoured scenario involves getting 60% of electricity from coal in 2050. That means opening new coal mines. Lusatia, the central European region that spans Polish-German border, is estimated to hold the largest fossil fuel reserve in the European Union. In particular, the region is rich of lignite or brown coal, cheap but dirty to burn due to its high moisture content. The proposed mining plan of Poland’s state energy company (PGE) in the Lusatia region would raze 15 villages and include displacement of 3,000 people. Among other sites, it was planned to use a mining area of approximately 8000-hectare for an opencast lignite mine in Gubin and Brody. Grabice is another village located deep within the boundaries of the pit-to-be area. The main argument for opening mines used by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is to lower Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas. However, the project is feared to cause significant negative environmental, health and climate impacts, warns Greenpeace Poland. Furthermore, in Western Poland, the land mostly state-owned and local farmers use it under the lease. After plans to build the mine were announced, the state refused to sell the land or prolong leases for some longer periods inducing increase in socio-economic uncertainty to local farmers. The local municipalities Gubin and Brody have already rejected the mine at a local referendum held in 2009, when three-quarters of their population voted against. Although it should be legally-binding, the central government might not respect it as it has been intending to include the mine in the regional (voivodeship) spatial plan. As farmers’ and regional authorities’ voices have not being respected, they started organising protests to communicate their grievances. In 2014, the local communities received international support when people from 28 different countries formed a 8km long human chain that stretched between the villages of Kerkwitz in Germany (also impacted by the plans to open new mines) and Grabice. In 2015, an environmental impact assessment for both mine and power plant started being prepared. However, same year, both municipalities elected mayors who are opponents of the mine. In addition, local communities got legal support by Frank Bold Foundations who submitted a complaint to the United Nations Aaarhus Committee arguing that local opinion was not taken account during the drafting of the current voivodship spatial planning. In August 2016 plans for the Gubice Brody mine was suspended by the Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection due to lack of adequate documentation and identified undercuts in details on environmental impact assessment. PGE has three years to submit the missing documents and to address the environmental concerns. The company did not quit from the project as it was confirmed in a note to media from May 2017 in which it stated planes to move forward after 2020 and build a nuclear plant instead of a coal power plant. 

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Gubin Brody lignite mine, Poland
Country:Poland
State or province:Lubusz Voivodeship
Location of conflict:Gubin
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Coal extraction and processing
Specific commodities:Coal
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

The mine would cover an area of 35-45 square kilometres and provide 17 million tonnes of lignite annually and 870 million tonnes overall. A planned power plant would have capacity of 2.7 to 3 GW.

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Project area:8,000
Level of Investment:6,000,000,000 USD
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:3,000 (directly affected by displacement)
Start of the conflict:2009
Company names or state enterprises:Polska Grupa Energetyczne (PGE) from Poland - Project leader
Relevant government actors:Polish government, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:NGO ”Development YES Open-Pit Mines NO” (http://rozwojtak-odkrywkinie.pl/index.php/en/), EKO-UNIA, Greenpeace Poland, Frank Bold Foundation and local authorities.
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Human chain
Impacts of the project
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Global warming, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Outcome
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Application of existing regulations
Project temporarily suspended
The company did not quit from the project as it was confirmed in a note to media from May 2017 in which it stated planes to move forward after 2020 and build a nuclear plant instead of a coal power plant.
Development of alternatives:Polish government and energy company see a lignite has a future as a major energy source and a way out of its energy dependency from Russia. National and local media described the mine as an investment of strategic importance, necessary both to enrich state coffers and to create local employment.
In turn, information critical of mining could be found only in a newspaper printed and distributed with own resources by local environmentalists. Greenpeace argues the plans to exploit lignite would make impossible for Poland to meet its carbon reduction targets and therefore contribute to the European Union’s climate goals. It also suggest that the Lusatia (including German part of this region too) is about to become the scene of one of biggest environmental crimes in the Europe. The opponents of lignite mines consider they are not viable economically due to the high costs of mining.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Although the Gubice Brody mine project was suspended by the Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection in August 2016, PGE got three years to submit the missing documents and to address the environmental concerns. In May 2017, the company confirmed it did not quit from the project.
Sources and Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Naworyta, W. and Sypniowski, S. 2013. GUBIN LIGNITE MINE – THE BIGGEST MINING INVESTMENT IN POLAND IN 30 YEARS: CHALLENGES DURING PLANNING AND DESIGN (scientific article)
[click to view]

Vasev, N. 2017. Governing energy while neglecting health – The case of Poland (scientific article)
[click to view]

Badera, J. and Pazderski, L. 2017. Effects of lignite surface mining on local communities: controversies and areas of negotiation (scientific article)
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Greenpeace Poland, 10 August 2016, "Plany budowy kopalni odkrywkowej w Gubinie wstrzymane"
[click to view]

Unearthed, by Joe Sandler Clarke, 12 August 2016, "Poland suspends giant new coal mine"
[click to view]

Frank Bold, 2016, "Lignite Mine Gubin"
[click to view]

Centrum informacji o rynku energii, 15 May 2017, "PGE: decyzja o budowie elektrowni jądrowej po 2020 roku"
[click to view]

Climate home news, 22 August 2014, "Human chain to protest coal mining in Germany and Poland"
[click to view]

E&E News, by Umair Irfan, 25 August 2014Mining expansion sparks demonstrations along Germany-Poland border
[click to view]

Climate home news, 27 August 2014, "Anti-coal protesters flock to German-Polish border"
[click to view]

Coalmap.eu, 2015, "Western Poland: a government fighting its own people"
[click to view]

Bankwatch Mail, 11 November 2013, "Bankwatch - Welcome to Coal-land"
[click to view]

Financial Post, 6 January 2014, "Dirtiest coal’s rebirth in Europe flattens Medieval towns"
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Greenpeace Deutschland, 26 August 2014, "Human Chain from Poland to Germany"
[click to view]

Other documents

Human chain against coal In August 2014 around 7,500 people from 28 different countries formed a 8km long human chain between the villages of Kerkwitz in Germany and Grabice in Poland
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Jovanka Spiric, Centro de Investigaciones en Geografía Ambiental (CIGA) - Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), vankajo(at)gmail.com
Last update29/01/2018
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