A way to climate neutrality

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Minister Michal Kurtyka during an Environment Council meeting at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium, 19 December 2019. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

Climate neutrality, low-carbon economy, reduction of emissions, renewable energy, circular economy, carbon footprint, Just Transition – in recent years, these keywords have become increasingly common in Poland’s public debate, writes Michał Kurtyka.

Michał Kurtyka is the minister of climate of Poland.

The debate about protecting the planet for future generations and thinking about climate policy as a tool for safeguarding the common good is engaging ever-broader social circles, which serves as a clear mandate for politicians and decision-makers. The key to good policymaking, which includes a good climate policy, is making responsible decisions.

Poland is a very active participant in the international climate debate and global climate negotiations. Here, it is worthwhile to recall the enormous success of the COP24 Climate Summit in Katowice, when together with partners from all over the world we contributed to the adoption of the Katowice Rulebook – a full operationalisation of the Paris Agreement.

The overarching goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050 is a commitment commensurate with the European Union’s far-reaching ambitions.  Without Poland, achieving this goal will be very difficult, if not impossible, especially in the wake of the United Kingdom leaving the Community.

Poland wants to continue a constructive debate about the future of the EU climate policy and – based on this debate, as well as the resulting thoughtful, responsible action plan – we also want to transform our economy towards climate neutrality.

Of course, as a responsible partner, we also have our concerns and awareness of the complexity of the issue at hand, which stem largely from the economic model that was imposed on Poland as a result of the forced political separation from the Western community in the aftermath of World War II.

The economic and political dependence on the Soviet Union shaped our economic model, the change of which requires time and considerable investments. In the wake of the political transition of 1989 and after regaining its freedom, Poland underwent a fundamental change.

This process is inextricably linked to considerable benefits and numerous opportunities, which can be exploited; however, it also requires numerous sacrifices. In Poland, the political transition has resulted in, among other things, a reduction of jobs in many industrial sectors, including mining, where employment fell from more than 400,000 to just about 80,000, a high unemployment rate and high inflation, which we managed to curb only in the first years of the 21st century.

These days, the situation of Polish society is much better, but in terms of living standards, we are still chasing the countries of the “old” EU.

The notion of justice has numerous interpretations; however, few Europeans would agree with the approach that envisions additional punishment for those who are disadvantaged through no fault of their own.

And this is what the universal imposition of measures to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 would amount to if it does not take into account the particular situation of Poland and without appropriate support mechanisms for a country whose energy system, economic structure and capital resources do not allow it to take full advantage of the opportunities associated with a rapid climate transition.

We are determined to join forces with our EU partners in order to pursue the path towards the key objective – achieving climate neutrality; however, we must be aware of the specifics of the energy market and the economy in a broader sense in Poland.

The scale of the challenges faced by Poland is incomparably greater than in other EU countries.

Poland wants to transform the energy sector and economy but we can’t forget that we are joining the transition from a completely different starting point than other countries. Currently, about 75% of the energy produced in our country comes from coal.

We want to change our energy mix. We want to produce more energy from renewable sources, which we will supplement with low-carbon sources in conventional energy.

Transformation is a long-term process that will not be carried out in a year. A just and responsible transformation will require time – this is not about radical changes, but about gradual but methodical implementation, taking into account a broad social factor.

Of course, this is an oversimplification to a certain extent, since achieving neutrality is not only about eliminating coal from the energy mix, it is also about changing the way we produce energy, switching economic models, as well as changing the behaviours and lifestyle of the society.

As such, it is a very complex undertaking, and we should approach it with utmost responsibility and care, so that its effects on society and industry are as imperceptible as possible.

Poland is taking concrete steps to make climate neutrality a reality. Established at the end of 2019, the Ministry of the Climate is setting ambitious goals for itself.

Those include the transition of the Polish energy sector, considering nuclear energy and the development of offshore wind farms, as well as measures aimed at achieving climate-neutral cities by reducing emissions generated by transport through electrification and clean air programmes, which fund the replacement of coal boilers, thermal modernisation of buildings and installation of photovoltaic panels.

The measures undertaken by the Ministry also include further steps towards achieving a circular economy and increased use of waste in the economy.

In the case of Poland, the next six months will be devoted to cooperation with partners in the EU for the best possible conditions for financing this transition from the EU funds and the implementation of legal, financial and institutional solutions to accelerate the change of the economic model to one that effectively reconciles the goal of improving the quality of life of citizens with concern for the climate.

If the EU wants to make climate neutrality a real and feasible goal, it needs to raise the issue of a fair distribution of commitments. From the point of view of Poland, as well as the viewpoint of the EU and its credibility, there is a need to diversify the pace of achieving climate neutrality, as well as the distribution of funds for funding this transition.

Poland does not want to oppose the EU’s climate ambitions, because we perceive them as an opportunity, not a threat.

Our economy is currently undergoing rapid changes, but we are only at the beginning of this long journey – a journey that will not be easy, but which we will be able to get through, thanks to cooperation with our partners.

Poland wants to show that we care about a community of solidarity within the EU. Without solidarity, we cannot achieve climate neutrality.

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