Poland heavily depends on coal and belongs to the most polluting and CO2 emitting European countries. Not surprisingly, a majority of the most polluted EU’s cities are Polish. Despite toxic air, Warsaw is planning to open a new coal mine. It can appear being absurd in the light of environmental debates across Europe. In June, Poland together with their coal-rich friends Hungary, the Czech Republic and Estonia blocked ‘2050 carbon neutrality target’ and prevented the EU from adopting a long-term vision. Eastern nations demonstrated again their willingness to step out of the mainstream.
Warsaw has announced the intention to build new coal-fired power plants in Imielin, Silesia last year along with no efforts to burn less fuel before 2030. Coal has been always connected to Polish prosperity and the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) resists pressure from Brussels to diversify national energy mix where coal stands for 80% of electricity generation. We should not be surprised by such a decision – when the party came to power in 2015, they pledged to support the coal industry. There is a supply of coal for another 200 years. However, the coal heritage is becoming increasingly expensive since the government has to purchase CO2 emission allowance and it sets burden on Polish taxpayers. These efforts are also justified as a way how to guarantee Polish energy independence, especially in term of Kremlin which uses gas supplies through Ukraine as a political weapon.
Mining is a traditional activity for many Polish, an important source of employment and even a basis of Polish identity. The topic of global warming is always surrounded by scepticism and different opinions, but what is specific for Poland is a little coverage of the topic in media with a prevailing reflection of climate sceptics. Polish media has been politicized and the coal-friendly government pushes for its own stories. Even the Polish science academy is in conflict with the International Panel on Climate Change regarding the linkage between coal and global warming. It boosts scepticism along with increasing criticism of Poland and leads to a sort of climate fatalism. Nevertheless, not everyone shares the same point of view. Data reveals that a third of Polish consider global warming as one of the gravest threats to the future and they are in favour of green energy.
‘2050 carbon neutral target’
The summit in Brussels in June ended up with a huge disappointment – Member States were not able to find agreement on emission neutrality. Poland led the opposition and succeed to wipe the climate commitment off. The final text highlighted that the EU inspires to climate neutrality – means an economy characterized by mostly limited emissions of greenhouse gases caused by human activity, along with the Paris Agreement. Ironically, the note about reaching climate neutrality by 2050 for the majority of the Member States was put in the footnote. The failure to adopt the commitment just reflects a fact how diverse Europe in term of energy is and how difficult is to find a common path. Polish PM Morawiecki called for a strictly defined compensatory mechanism for those regions that will have to bear the cost of green energy transformation.
What has recently intensified the focus on decarbonization of economies is the newly elected President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. She introduced climate change as her priority and promised to deliver a European Green Deal with an ambitious aim to transform Europe into the very first climate-neutral continent by 2050. She announced to set a Just Transition Fund to cover the cost of transformation during her visit of Poland. Moreover, Finland has strengthened the importance of climate change for its 6 months presidency of the European Council and declared to find a broad agreement among the Member States until October. What can be expected from Warsaw? It is unlikely that Warsaw would be ready to compromise in October due to elections planning in late autumn.
Cuts in Cohesion Funds and CAP
Secondly, Polish narrative should be also interpreted in ongoing negotiations over 2021-2027 financial framework especially when Cohesion Funds and Common Agriculture Policy are being discussed. Obviously, Warsaw wants to make use of its strong negotiation position and not to give up on climate declaration before the budget is agreed. As proposed, Poland would face a 23% cut off funds for economically depressed regions and it is not acceptable for a country that is the largest net beneficiary from the EU. It is clear enough that Warsaw can use decarbonization as leverage in term of budget negotiations. Equally, Warsaw can demand trade-off between climate change and more frequent interference targeting domestic affairs which are seen as undermining the rule of law and in conflict with the EU principles.