Leading Emission Reduction Challenges: (a) Dependence on fossil fuels as energy sources, especially coal; (b) Political opposition to climate change legislation
Current Greenhouse Gas Emission Levels
A perfect storm of conservative political figures, and an addiction to coal threatens Poland’s ability to honor its pledge in the Paris Agreement. Between 2008 and 2012, the EU’s top producer and consumer of coal had a total GHG emission of 367.25 MtCO₂e, coming mainly from the country’s energy industries (electricity and heating), followed by transportation, and then agriculture. When it comes to fossil fuel dependency, 91% of Poland’s energy supply is based in fossil fuel consumption (compared to the 73% EU average). Nevertheless, in the grand, global scheme of things, Poland is responsible for about 1% of global GHG emissions.
Emission Reduction Challenges
Regardless of their small global impact, Poland still has one of the most carbon-intensive economies of the EU. The country is full of Soviet era coal infrastructure that has continued its coal addiction, even as its neighboring countries, such as Germany, shift to cleaner energy sources. About 70% of this Soviet-era infrastructure is 30+ years old and, even more unfortunate, the government is devoting resources to renewing these plants instead of cleaner alternatives. Energy Minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski’s sees “building more efficient coal power plants will get us better results in cutting CO2 emissions than building renewable energy sources like wind or solar.” Poland is sticking to what it knows to grow – coal.
Many politicians from the current political party in charge, the conservative, Eurosceptic Law and Justice Party (PiS), share similar views to the Energy Minister. The country’s Minister of Environment, Jan Szyszko, also of the PiS, even has nonchalantly referred to EU proposed greenhouse gas emission targets as an “inconvenience.” In addition to using coal as a way to grow their economy, they also cite the resource as the foundation of energy security, an idea that Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, a coal miner’s daughter, and other members of government have repeatedly emphasized.
Poland’s Deputy Energy Minister Andrzej Piotrowski has stated that “wind generation is not a reliably stable source of electricity” and has not only taken actions accordingly to undercut the clean energy industry, but done little to explore these alternatives. As Poland is stuck with aging infrastructure in a changing climate where international investors are looking to finance clean energy sources, during a time when coal has been at record low prices, the PiS controlled parliament passed a bill that imposes greater restrictions on wind turbine construction (further limiting where they could be built) as a way to curtail the fledging industry so that the focus remains on coal.
This sentiment exists even at the highest level, where President Andrzej Duda (PiS) has called for more research into clean energy sources, to provide established proof they could provide a viable alternative. “Binding Poland to an international agreement affecting the economy and with associated social costs should be preceded by a detailed analysis of the legal and economic impact…. These effects have not been sufficiently explained.” Despite his skepticism, the government hasn’t announced any plans to fund future research.
Poland’s Ministry of the Environment’s 2003 report “Poland’s Climate Policy: The strategies for greenhouse gas emission reductions in Poland until 2020” has suggested a laundry list of climate policy recommendations to help move Poland into a greener society. This report also includes encouraging research and monitoring Poland’s possible climate changes or possible scenarios that might result from those changes, as President Duda had suggested (even though the report is from before his time), but again makes no plans on how to turn that suggestion into action.
The Ministry of the Environment has reported on the scarcity of environmental education, news coverage, and overall knowledge about all things environmental or sustainable, and the need to change this. The report suggests a range of changes from logistical to cultural. They include teaching environmental protection and sustainable development in all levels of education, and starting recycling programs. (There is also a small part devoted to forestry, which the Poles were so passionate about during the Paris Agreement)
Though the Ministry of the Environment’s report provides recommendations, they are vague and hallow: they are listed as “specific objectives” with little guidance on how to turn them into action. The report also suggests that all change should happen through the “correct functioning of market mechanisms,” reiterating Poland’s emphasis on its economy. It is also of note that this report was published in 2003 (before Poland even joined the EU) and hasn’t been updated since.
Investment in clean energy is needed to undermine the Polish coal addiction. Numerous reports state the renewable energy sector holds the potential for hundreds of thousands of new jobs over the next two decades, which would create the prefect opportunities for those individuals whose livelihoods depends on coal mining and other high-carbon industries. There seems to be many different, greener paths ahead of Poland, if only the country would take them on, instead of focusing on its coal past.
–Submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Kathleen Gorman