On Monday, CAN International awarded Poland the “Fossil of the Day” award for their recent, anti-climate behavior. So, what did the Polish government do to deserve this backlash from the climate change policy community?
Currently, Poland is hosting the UNFCCC COP 19, one of the largest environmental negotiations in the world, at the National Stadium in Warsaw. Just a few miles away, ironically, the Ministry of the Economy and the World Coal Association held a “coal summit.” The Ministry of the Economy proposes to build a new coal-fired power plant in Pomerania. In response, Greenpeace activists from over 20 countries and Polish environmentalists protested the coal summit.
Poland’s economy and power sector heavily depends on coal production and consumption. Poland is a global top ten producer of coal at 144 Mt a year in 2012. Approximately 88% of Poland’s electricity originates from coal-fired power plants. Poland hosts the dirtiest power plant in Europe, known as Belchatow, as well as six of the ten E.U. cities with the highest particulate concentration in the air. Moreover, the Polish government proposes to develop one of the world’s biggest lignite reserves near Legnica, which would require 20,000 people to be relocated.
At the close of COP 18 in Doha, Poland played an interesting role in the dramatic final minutes of the negotiations for a second commitment period (CP2) for the Kyoto Protocol, called the “Doha Amendment.” Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, designated as economies in transition by the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol (KP), wanted their pre-1990 carbon emission levels to carry over into the CP2, sometimes referred as “hot air.” These allowances, referred in the Kyoto Protocol as assigned amount units (AAUs), are not real accounting credits in a carbon-trading scheme. The E.U. was against this proposal, but Poland took the side of Russia and the oth
er economies in transition (EITs) as they also wanted their AAUs to carry over into CP2, as Poland had an extra 800 million hot air permits left over. Initially, Poland refused to sign the E.U. extension unless the E.U. promised Poland flexibility with its carbon emissions cuts. Also, Poland is rather cozy with Russia, particularly on energy relations, as Poland imports 2/3 of its coal from its eastern neighbor. Thus, Poland (and Russia) could still pollute carbon emissions at
1990 levels. Meanwhile, other Parties to the CP2 would have to reduce by 18% of 1990 levels and the E.U. collectively reduce to 20% below 1990 levels.
The signatories to the CP2 include only 15% of total global emissions, but the E.U. continues to lead the way on carbon mitigation and carbon trading. Poland, as a member of the E.U., has to abide by E.U. climate policies and directives, yet it finds ways to bend the rules and block E.U. attempts to develop clean-energy goals to reduce carbon emissions. At COP 19, the Parties to the UNFCCC continue to call on nations to find ambition to mitigate carbon emissions. Will Poland overcome its addiction to coal to find the ability to lead on combating the climate crisis?