Warsaw breaks ranks with Poland on 2030 climate goals

Warsaw old town (Futurescape/Creative Commons)

EXCLUSIVE / The Mayor of Warsaw has complained to the Polish government that 2030 clean energy goals which Poland believed too radical were in fact unambitious, undemocratically decided, and risk spiking EU decarbonisation moves, in a letter seen by EURACTIV.

The letter, which was sent to the deputy Prime Minister, Elizabeth Bie?kowska, on 14 August, will flush faces in the Polish government, not least because Warsaw’s mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz–Waltz, is a senior member of Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s right-wing Civic Platform party.  

The EU’s current proposals “do not show the ambition necessary to meet European obligations in the field of climate and energy by 2050”, her missive says, referencing an EU pledge to cut emissions at least 80% by mid-century.

It goes on to say that the EU’s policy-making process “ignored engagement with local stakeholders” and “makes us concerned that a chance to change an [old] energy paradigm for new one, based on decentralised low-carbon energy system and lower energy use, will be missed.”

The letter is in line with a recent Ipsos poll finding that around 90% of Poles support legally-binding targets for renewable energy, and for energy efficiency.

“It is pretty embarrassing for Donald Tusk,” the Green MEP Bas Eickhout told EURACTIV. “This is a clear signal from inside his party that there is a gap between what the Polish political elite is doing and what people in the country are feeling. It can only be healthy that some people in Tusk’s party are speaking out on that.”

A former chair of Poland’s national bank, Gronkiewicz–Waltz is a political heavyweight who served as the deputy chair of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development between 2001 and 2004.   

‘Tip of the iceberg’

But her letter was “only the tip of the iceberg,” said Julia Michalak, a policy officer for Climate Action Network Europe, over the phone from Warsaw. “A growing number of mayors from all over Poland – Gubin, Brody, Lubin and Kruszwica – are criticising the government’s pro-coal policy.”

Warsaw has pursued a proactive approach to energy, utilising EU grants for innovative hi-tech projects such as E3Soho and Ice Wish, which reduce energy wastage in social housing, or Open House which provides sustainable building assessments.  

The Polish capital is also one of the four participating Cities on Power, promoting local renewable energy use, and is active in the Warsaw University of Technology’s E-mobil cluster, which strives to advance electric vehicle and hybrid projects.

Gronkiewicz–Waltz’s missive noted the city’s involvement in the Covenant of Mayors (CoMs), a movement of 5,924 cities and town councils, committed to increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

EU mandates

It uses similar language to another recent statement coordinated by the Energy Cities association, which represents a thousand European local authorities. This also called for robust 2030 climate goals, including a 40% energy saving benchmark and 30% renewable energy goal, in line with a European Parliament proposal.

But in January, Tusk even opposed a weaker mandate eventually proposed by the EU – for a binding 40% CO2 cut, a 27% share of renewables in Europe’s energy mix, and 30% improvement in energy wastage, which will now be finalised at an EU summit in October.

Poland has positioned itself as a champion of the Visegrad group of countries, by trying to postpone debate on the 2030 climate package until agreement has been reached on ‘burden sharing,’ or support from richer EU countries.

The east European state is 90% coal-dependent and its emissions have increased by 8.2% since 2002 when it signed the Kyoto Protocol, according to research by Greenpeace.

By contrast, its capital Warsaw is “seen as a leader” in climate protection and efficiency action by other towns and cities in the region, according to Gronkiewicz–Waltz’s letter.

A redistributive question

Georg Zachmann, a research fellow at the Bruegel Institute told EURACTIV that her missive reflected a wider ‘redistributive question’ at the heart of Polish politics.

“We know who the winners and losers will be in Polish society from strong decarbonisation targets,” he said. “Without any redistribution, stronger targets would mean that more money was collected by the Polish treasury in the form of allowances under the Emissions Trading System.”

“These could be used for all kinds of ends – such as helping the people of Warsaw,” he continued. “But big industry like coal plants would have to pay for this, and that might partly explain the government’s current political preferences.”

Polish coal is not cheap. Between 1990 and 2012, the Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies reported cumulative public financial support for coal-based power in Poland at €40.5 billion. The institute estimates the health and pollution costs resulting from this over the same period at between €167 and €524 billion.

Even so, last September, Tusk reportedly said that “the future of Polish energy is in brown and black coal, as well as shale gas.”

Personal and political contacts

Greenpeace Poland argues that a web of personal and political contacts link Poland’s largest power company, Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE), to politicians and treasury officials at the highest levels. They cite:

  • Krzysztof Kilian, a former president of the PGE board and close friend of Tusk’s, who supported the formation of Civic Platform in 2001.
  • Aleksander Grad, another PGE board president, who has been a Civic Platform MP since 2001 and served as treasury minister between 2007 and 2011.
  • Marzena Piszczek, a PGE board vice-president, who served as director of the treasury ministry’s Krakow branch until 2012.
  • Zdislaw Gawlik, also a PGE vice-president, who has been an under-secretary of state in the treasury ministry since 2013.

But Polish society is far from united on a future energy vision based on coal. Last weekend, 8,000 demonstrators formed an 8 kilometre-long human chain linking two Polish villages, Grabice and Kerkwitz, to protest massive new lignite mining projects planned there.

The EU’s 2030 climate and energy framework package was presented on 22 January 2014 as a successor to the three 20-20-20 targets of 20% greenhouse gas cuts, improvements in energy efficiency and renewable energy market penetration, all by 2020. The energy efficiency goal is non-binding and remains the only one the bloc is not on track to meet.

For 2030, the EU framework has proposed:

  • A 40% greenhouse gas reduction target that is binding at nation state level and may not be met by carbon offsets
  • The use of carbon offsets to meet further emissions reduction commitments made in international climate talks
  • A 27% renewable energy target that is binding at an aggregate European level but voluntary for individual member states
  • No consideration of any new energy efficiency target until after a June 2014 review of the Energy Efficiency Directive  
  • Non-binding shale gas recommendations which could be made binding after a review in 2015
  • A market reserve facility for the Emissions Trading System, with the power to withhold or release up to 100 million allowances
  • An end to the Fuel Quality Directive, which mandates reductions in the greenhouse gas intensity of transport fuels, by 2020

The package was widely received as a compromise reflecting the balance of power between various member states at the European Council. It will now be discussed by MEPs at the European Parliament and EU heads of state at the European Council before a final version is agreed.

  • September 2014: UN climate change summit 
  • October 2014: EU Council will finalise 2030 energy and climate targets
  • December 2015: Paris COP summit
  • 2020: Deadline for EU states to meet binding targets for 20% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, improvements in energy efficiency, and market share for renewable energy

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