Poland’s climate diplomacy undermined by tensions over coal

Lignite mine in Turow, Poland [Anna Uciechowska]

The pro-coal position of Poland’s energy ministry has thrown sand into the country’s climate diplomacy as COP24 president-designate Michał Kurtyka intensifies his diplomatic tour ahead of the United Nation’s annual climate meeting later this year in Katowice.

A pre-COP24 session, held in Krakow on Thursday (24 October), showed uneven progress being made across the various negotiation tracks identified to establish a “rulebook” for the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“If negotiators fail to agree on adopting the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement, then it will be seen internationally as Poland’s failure,” a source close to the Polish government told EURACTIV under condition of anonymity.

The government will try everything to make sure the guidelines are adopted despite internal attempts to weaken them in the process, the source added.

Conflicting picture

Coal-dependent Poland will preside over the COP24 on 2-14 December in Katowice. The Polish event is seen as the most important moment in international climate change negotiations since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015.

Michał Kurtyka, state secretary in the Polish ministry of environment, is the President-designate of COP24. As such, he will be pivotal in the success – or failure – of the UN climate conference, overseeing the proceedings and playing an important part in brokering compromises when problems appear. 

But his action is being undermined by the Polish energy minister, the source said.

“On the one hand, you have the environment ministry that is fighting coal and is clearly focusing on the COP24, and on the other, you have the energy ministry that is promoting fossil fuels,” the source explained.

“This gives a conflicting picture on the European and international stage as well as hampering Poland’s COP24 presidency diplomatic efforts,” the source added.

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Still a long way to go

On 30 April, the Polish government nominated Michał Kurtyka to serve as the President of COP24. In July, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki appointed him secretary of state in the environment ministry, a job he now occupies after serving for two and a half years as deputy minister for energy.

“Since his appointment, Michał Kurtyka spent much time defending his position within the national government. Only in August did he set up a coordinating team for COP24,” the source explained.

Yet, momentum is required and pressure on negotiators is mounting as the pre-COP ended on Thursday with little progress.

There is much detailed work to be done until the UN Climate Change Conference starts in Katowice on 2 December,” German state secretary in the environment ministry Jochen Flasbarth said in a statement after attending the Pre-COP24 meeting.

While the climate protection targets are set at the national level, implementation, measuring and monitoring must be binding for all at the international level, he explained, adding that one of the important outstanding questions was how the national climate targets can be combined with international rules on transparency.

“Transparency in implementation is the trustworthiness of international climate protection,” Flasbarth said.

On 22-24 October, ministers and heads of delegations from 37 countries met in Krakow in a bid to accelerate the negotiation process. The meeting took place amid rising climate urgency since the publication of a much-awaited report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which said efforts of an unprecedented scale, speed and magnitude were necessary in order to keep global warming below 1.5C.

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This means turning 300 pages or so of negotiating text into coherent implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement, dubbed as the Paris “rulebook”. 

As it is, the agreement stipulates that each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it undertakes to mitigate global warming. It does not specify the tools or the legal framework under which such monitoring and reporting must be made. 

The text does, however, stipulate that each target should go beyond previously set objectives, thus integrating a ratcheting up process of the countries’ climate ambition.

Think tank: Coal crisis, not climate policy, is forcing Polish energy overhaul

The unfolding crisis in the coal sector is leaving Poland with a looming power generation gap which is forcing decision-makers to reconsider the country’s energy mix. But politicians have until now delayed hard decisions and a transparent debate about it, says Joanna Maćkowiak Pandera.

European Heads of State devoted 18 October the last two paragraphs of the Council conclusions to the climate. Acknowledging the IPCC 1.5°C report, they followed the conclusions adopted 9 October by the Environment Ministers which say the EU is ready to "communicate or update" its national contribution by 2020. Stakeholders however are urging member states to raise their ambition as temperature rise already reached an alarming level.

Ester Asin, Director at WWF European Policy Office, said her organisation was glad to see Member States’ unequivocally endorse the findings of IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C.

“However, as the world is on course for a warming of more than 3°C, mere concern is not going to reverse this trend—only immediate policy measures will. We urge Member States to act on these words come December by committing to higher ambition at COP24, and by producing a long-term climate strategy that matches the necessary urgency for action, one that aims for net-zero emissions by 2040,” she said.


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