Europe must support Polish decarbonisation

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

Coal-fired power plant, Rybnik. Poland, 2010. [Bankwatch/Flickr]

A Polish transition to a modern, prosperous, clean economy is dependent on action at European-level, writes Anna Dubowik.

Anna Dubowik is head of Poland at the Change Partnership.

On 27 October 2015, Polish President Andrzej Duda vetoed ratification of the extension of the Kyoto protocol targets to 2020. This was agreed in the Doha round of international negotiations in 2012. Poland was one of the 192 countries that agreed to this extension.

Duda’s intention was to undermine the EU’s 2020 climate and energy targets. However, the EU’s targets for greenhouse gas reductions, energy savings and renewable energy have been hardwired into EU legislation already, whilst the 2030 targets are in the process of becoming European law.

There is still an outside chance that the current Polish parliament could reject the President’s veto with a 3/5ths majority before the new government comes into office.

Climate scepticism was one of the main foundations of the new government’s election campaign, as was the premise that coal is the life-blood of the Polish economy and will remain so for decades to come. The Law and Justice Party’s electoral campaign was full of slogans about the need to renegotiate, or even opt-out from the 2030 emission reduction target of 40% agreed in the European Council conclusions in October 2014 and to continue the state control over coal mining.

It, however, did not mention the considerable financial support that the former government secured for a transition to a more modern and secure energy system and wider economy. Poland will retrieve 40% of the finance from the newly created Modernisation Fund, worth an estimated €2.4 billion at an EU ETS price of €20.

Further funding from the EU’s Multi-annual financial framework supports investments in renewable energy and energy savings measures that are crucial for households and industry to remain competitive within their supply chains and business models, as well as saving money at home.

An opt-out from the 2030 framework, and a strong anti-climate change stance could kill the goose that lays the golden egg, especially as significant funding is urgently needed for retrofitting ageing power generation capacity, grid modernisation, deployment of renewables and energy efficiency improvements.

It is true that Poland faces unique challenges on the path to decarbonisation, not only due to its 80% dependence on coal for electricity production, and heavy reliance on Russian gas imports. A study from 2014 authored by the Economy Ministry, National Centre for Emissions Management and World Bank shows that the proposed 2030 policy package would not affect EU countries equally.

Transition economies and countries where the share of power and energy-intensive sectors is high will face greater costs from the proposed 2030 targets, especially if their energy mix relies on high-carbon fuels. Poland meets both criteria.

According to the study under the 2030 framework, the EU as a whole loses 0.4% in terms of GDP, while Poland could lose up to 1.0% GDP. EU compensation on climate and energy policy has been specifically designed to lessen the effects of this transition.

Unfortunately, the Polish draft energy policy plan for 2030 with a perspective up to 2050 shows little strategic thinking on the direction of this transition. The plan is due for adoption by the new government by the end of the year, pending the outcome of COP21.

The preferred 2050 scenario has the share of renewables, gas and nuclear spread evenly at around 15%, with the exception of the share of hard coal and lignite that will continue to dominate the fuel mix.

This so-called ‘sustainable’ scenario provides for the development of conventional fossil-based capacity “in a way to make the best use of domestic resources of fuels” and leads nowhere near the GHG reduction targets agreed at the EU level.

Rational energy policy should focus on making the energy both clean and affordable, not on the development of the energy sector itself, and protecting the status-quo.

Worse still, the policy looks at preventing further EU climate policy in the absence of global agreement as one of its key priorities for international climate diplomacy. There is a big risk that the new Polish government will take this priority to the next levels. This threatens to undermine the prosperity of the entire EU, a course than must be avoided.

Therefore, there is an urgent need to start a specific EU-wide dialogue around how Europe can aid Poland transition to a modern, healthy and prosperous economy. Public posturing on climate change will undermine this to the detriment of both Poland and the EU.

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