With European delegates preparing to push a low-carbon agenda at the Rio Earth Summit this week, coal-reliant Poland has prevented EU governments from speaking with a single voice in the bloc's debate on a low-carbon energy future.
At a meeting in Luxembourg on Friday (15 June), EU energy ministers debated an energy 2050 road map published by the bloc's executive in December, which sets out the route towards almost zero carbon power generation by the middle of the century.
Poland has repeatedly objected to any language in EU texts pointing towards deeper carbon cuts to guide decision-making for the years following 2020, when the EU is set to meet a binding target of a 20% emissions cut from 1990 levels.
Ministers from 26 EU member countries backed a resolution calling on the European Commission to propose a new policy framework for low-carbon energy up to 2030, but Poland was the only country to oppose the move.
"Poland cannot accept regulations concerning reduction targets after 2020 without reaching a global agreement on climate issues, and technologies reducing emissions at industrial scale are not implemented," a statement from the country's economy ministry said.
The country's reservations concerned the EU's decarbonisation objective, as well as a call for "robust and adequate" carbon pricing, which in its opinion could be seen as an encouragement to artificial support of CO2 emission prices.
Carbon prices on the EU's Emissions Trading System have fallen to record lows below €7 per tonne in recent months, while analysts say prices of €20 to €50 are necessary to spur investment in low-carbon energy.
A spokesman for the Danish EU presidency said Poland's opposition to the resolution would not prevent the bloc from pressing ahead with its low-carbon plans.
"The resolution was supported by 26 EU countries, and that is a clear signal to the Commission that it can start working on legislative proposals for 2030," the spokesman said.
Poland has, however, expressed support for the EU's drive to increase energy efficiency. The European Union reached agreement a day earlier on a law to require governments and utilities to improve energy efficiency and lower the bloc's consumption of fuel.
Poland has also backed the EU’s position at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro later this week. The EU wants to push global leaders to commit to sustainable energy a green economy, though it faces resistance from both advanced and developing countries to binding commitments.
“Poland is doing a great job of co-hosting the Euro 2012 football championships but it deserves a red card for blocking the Council Conclusions on the Energy Roadmap 2050. To achieve its energy and environmental goals, Europe needs a team effort”, said Josche Muth, secretary-general of the European Renewable Energy Council.
One of the priorities of the Polish delegation in Rio de Janeiro is to promote Polish green technologies, the government said in a statment. "We would like to show all interested parties that environmentally friendly solutions may support the development of a green economy in an effective manner and contribute to an increase in the competitiveness of economies," said Marcin Korolec, the environment minister. During the summit, the Polish delegation also plans to promote Warsaw as a candidate for the seat of the Green Climate Fund, which is going to support changes towards a green economy in the developing countries.
Daniel Fraile, senior energy policy officer of the Climate Action Network-Europe, said: “The fact that Poland stands alone in its opposition to defining a common EU energy strategy means that an overriding majority of EU member states agreed that further supporting renewable energy is the only way forward towards a sustainable, decarbonized and cost effective economy.
“We now call upon the European Commission, on the basis of this strong support from EU Member States to develop ambitious, binding and effective measures and targets for the further development of renewable energy beyond the current 2020 targets. This will include making the right choices on the further development of energy infrastructures and grids”.
Greenpeace EU energy policy director Frauke Thies said: “While some countries are still trying to give a lifeline to risky and dirty nuclear and fossil technologies, ministers could not help but conclude that renewables, efficiency and a flexibleenergy system are the three essential elements for a clean and secure energy supply for Europe. But instead of calling for ambitious 2030 targets in these areas, they only made a vague appeal for a policy framework.
“The longer the Polish government sticks to its current position, the longer its citizens and economy will miss out on the benefits of a clean and lean energy system,” Thies said in a statement.
The EU's position for the UN Framework Climate Change Conference talks, agreed by EU heads of states at a summit in 2009, is that emissions from developed countries should be slashed by up to 95% by 2050.
Developing countries should cut their own emissions by half over the same period, EU leaders said. To achieve its own target, the EU's low-carbon roadmap has set a series of milestones including a 40% emissions reduction by 2030 and a 60% goal for 2040 in order to reach the 80%-95% objective for 2050.
The European Commission presented its low-carbon roadmap in March 2011, proposing to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by as early as 2020. This was above the legally binding objective of 20% that EU leaders have signed up to for 2020.
But Poland has resisted anything that would target its coal industry, saying it would hurt the economy and energy security.
- European Commission: Roadmap for moving to a low carbon economy by 2050
- Denmark: Danish EU presidency priorities
- Polish government: Ministry for the Environment