Environmental Law in Eastern Europe

By Derek Maiolo

Kristina Sabova, an environmental lawyer in the Czech Republic and fellow of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW), spoke Wednesday at the Eugene chapter of ELAW on the state of the coal industry in Central Europe as part of the organization’s Fellows Program.

ELAW is an international organization that works to connect environmental professionals from around the world as a way of sharing ideas and working together to help disadvantaged communities and protect the environment. Through the Fellows Program, the Eugene chapter brings in experts to educate the public on contemporary issues from outside the state and country.

Sabova also works as head of the Responsible Energy Section at Frank Bold Society, an international law organization with offices in several European countries that provides legal support to non-profit organizations and other environmental stakeholders in the European Union. Fossil fuels make up more than 80 percent of Poland’s energy consumption, according to Sabova, and she said a number of other European countries face a similar over-dependence on carbon-emitting fuel sources.

“Europe is not anymore a frontrunner when it comes to technologies and energy policies,” she said.

The problem, she explained, is that certain countries across the EU—from the Czech Republic to Spain—have decades-old mining operations whose ties go deeper than just the local economy.

“You have countries where coal is called gold because it’s national pride,” she said.

Václav Klaus, the previous president of the Czech Republic, opposes environmental concerns over fossil fuel consumption, authoring several books that denounce climate change.

This kind of dialogue, Sabova said, makes it difficult for environmental groups in some countries to take a legal stand against coal companies. Through her work with Frank Bold Society, she provides legal support to give such groups the capacity to halt the expansion of fossil fuels and create space for development of alternative energy sources.

Some of her successful cases make her optimistic for the future of environmental energy policy in the EU.

“These days in energy are the most exciting ones you can imagine,” she said.

She pointed to a number of efforts across the continent to spur investment in the renewable sector as well as to transition old coal mining operations into green energy hubs.

One of the concerns raised in this process is the loss of jobs from the closure of mines. Bern Johnson, the executive director of ELAW, said that in order to alleviate the loss of livelihood from such changes, companies and groups need to work with laborers in the fossil fuel industry to help them transition to jobs in the green sector.

“We need to work with those people, retrain people, and help them go in new directions,” he said.

For Johnson, taking a legal stand for the conservation and protection of the environment is more than just a profession.

“I have two children,” he said. “I want them and their children to enjoy the planet like I have.”