Micronesia has mounted an unprecedented legal challenge against the Czech Republic's plans to expand the 1050 MW Prunerov II coal plant, claiming potential environmental damage could threaten the archipelago's survival.
The Daily Telegraph reports low-lying Micronesia, more than 7000 miles from the coal plant in question, is at risk from rising sea levels and has taken the step of objecting to the Czech project, because of fears over increased greenhouse gas emissions and the contribution they will make to global warming.
The case has the potential to set a new precedent in international law as countries more exposed to climate change take action against major carbon emitters. Plant owner CEZ has government approval to build a 3 x 250 MW units expansion with a thermal efficiency of 38 per cent. However, this is below the minimum of 42 per cent of net energy efficiency required by both EU and Czech legislation, argues Micronesia.
If the expansion goes ahead, the Prunerov II plant will become one of Europe's largest coal fired power stations and the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions in the Czech Republic, emitting out 40 times more carbon dioxide than the entire population of Micronesia annually. It will also be able to operate until 2035, instead of closing down in 2020.
Micronesia, a chain of more than 600 islands dotted across the west Pacific, is already suffering from regular flooding, extreme weather events and destructive tidal surges as a result of rising sea levels and the warming oceans. Any major new coal fired project would further threaten the future of the nation, its government has warned.
Many parts of Micronesia, including at least one of the nation's four international airports, lie barely more than 3ft above sea level. A report released in Australia on Monday found that unless climate change is urgently addressed, sea levels will rise 3ft by the end of the century.
"The very real impacts of climate change are happening on our disappearing shores," said Maketo Robert, Secretary of the Department of Justice and the Attorney General of the Federated States of Micronesia.
"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."
The case is being supported by Greenpeace, which has argued that what happens on one side of the planet in developed countries can no longer be divorced from the fate of nations vulnerable to climate change. While stopping the expansion was unlikely to save Micronesia on its own, it was a start, Jan Rovensky, a Greenpeace campaigner in the Czech Republic, said.
Micronesia and Greenpeace want the Czech government to carry out an assessment of how pollution from expanding the power station will affect the archipelago. That kind of study, called a Transboundary Environmental Impact Assessment, is often requested by countries that share borders, but it has never been demanded by a nation in a different region, and hemisphere, before.
It comes after the Czech Ministry of Environment issued a positive environmental impact statement in April that cleared the way for the construction of the plant. The Czech environment ministry's verdict on Micronesia's case is expected within the next two weeks.