Wellington (AFP) May 26, 2011
In a legal first, Micronesia has challenged plans to expand a coal-fired power station in the Czech Republic, arguing its emissions will increase the climate change risks facing the Pacific nation.
Environmental group Greenpeace said it was the first time a country whose survival was directly threatened by climate change had taken legal action against a development half a world away.
Micronesia's Attorney-General Maketo Robert said his country -- which consists of more than 600 islands, many less than a metre (three feet) above sea level -- risked being swamped if global warming continued unabated.
"The very real impacts of climate change are happening on our disappearing shores," he said in a statement.
"This legal tool demonstrates that nations on the frontline of climate change are now supported by, and must prepare to invoke, the international law in making meaningful and more effective inputs into energy decisions."
In recent years, Micronesia has linked extreme weather, coastal erosion and salination of its water table to climate change.
It has also expressed fears that much of its 100,000 population could become climate refugees, forced to relocated as the seas rise.
In response, Micronesia brought legal action in 2009 demanding the Czech Republic carry out an environmental impact assessment on plans to refit and extend the life of the Prunerov II power station in the country's north-west.
The plant, one of Europe's largest coal-fired power stations, was originally scheduled to close in 2020 but will remain open until 2035 and increase its output under the plans.
While Micronesia's legal action did not try to halt the Prunerov II expansion, it sought emission abatement measures to minimise the carbon dioxide pollution blamed for global warming.
Using a legal device called a Transnational Environmental Impact Assessment, which has previously been used only by neighbouring states, the Pacific nation succeeding in forcing an independent review of the Czech plans.
Greenpeace lawyer Jasper Tuelings said the legal action set a precedent for other small countries that were struggling with climate change to push for more environmentally responsible development in the West.
"This concept can be replicated by other countries against other projects," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday.
"So we believe this tool is an attractive one for vulnerable countries to come face to face with the Western decisions on energy use."
Tuelings outlined the legal theory behind behind the action to a climate change conference in New York this week, encouraging other climate-affected countries to follow Micronesia's lead.
The Czech government's response to the environmental review prompted by Micronesia is expected in the next few weeks, Greenpeace said.
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