Elektrownia Bełchatów, photo:
Free carbon emission permits for the Polish coal industry till 2030, negotiated at the EU climate summit last Thursday, are seen as a victory by the Polish government and as a disgrace by many Polish media and environmentalists groups. I believe this quick summary on the reaction to the new EU deal (and the pompous language used by leading politicians) makes an interesting reading.
Last Thursday at the climate summit in Brussels, European Union leaders endorsed a binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 (from 1990 levels). Poland won assurances that its utilities will get free carbon permits under the EU emissions trading system after 2020, and that the country will have access to funds for modernizing coal-based plants.
Poland has, effectively, managed to protect the coal-dependent status quo and can continue its short-sighted opposition to modernize its energy industry and defend it at all cost.
But the government is pretty content.
In the run up to the summit, Poland led opposition against the deal arguing that the target would hit its economy disproportionately and that the EU deal will drive up consumer prices 120 per cent between 2021 and 2030. The Polish government has openly criticized the EU proposals to cut CO2 emissions. Earlier this month Rafal Trzaskowski, Polish deputy foreign minister responsible for EU affairs, called the plans to limit CO2 emission “excessively ambitious ideas, in our opinion simply harmful for European competitiveness and economic growth.”
The Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz left for the summit threatening to veto the deal unless the costs to Poland’s economy and industry were discounted by €15bn-€20bn (£12bn-£16bn) between 2020 and 2030, under a complicated system of concessions from the EU’s carbon trading system. She came back victorious – proud that “nobody will make Poland pay more, and the energy prizes won’t rise” as she had promised. She had declared she would fight for no extra financial burdens caused by the EU carbon policy, and she kept her promise.
During a press conference just after the summit, the deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechociński boasted that “the new EU climate agreement, that is in the interests of Polish families – the receivers of energy as well as the interests of the energy industry – came as a result of the government’s long-term efforts to make the Polish economy more competitive”. Piechocinski also stressed that “Poland was alone in the fight for the European industry” and he was “forced to threaten with veto till the end.”
Minister Trzaskowski’s “excessively ambitious ideas” and Piechocinski’s “fight for the [survival of] European industry” paint a pretty accurate picture of the Polish government’s attitude to combatting climate change.
But not everyone is that content.
“It’s scandalous,” said Julia Michalak, a spokeswoman for Climate Action Network Europe. “A continuation of free emission permits for Poland’s coal-reliant energy system would be a grave mistake. Leaders who came to Brussels to agree new historic climate goals, are actually discussing whether to hand out money to Europe’s dirtiest power plants.”
“Poland has managed to negotiate the right to stay behind the European countries that modernize their own energy industries,” says Kacper Szulecki in the Liberal Culture magazine. “ We have got what premier Kopacz wanted: no extra burden of costs but, additionally, no incentives to reform and modernise our economy and the energy industry. Where there are concessions and there is no motivation, there will be no change. He adds that when it comes to the role of Poland in the EU and the role of the EU in the global fight to combat climate change, the victory isn’t that obvious. Veto would have been damaging to both Poland and for the EU’s ambitious plan to show unity on the issue to the rest of the world. Szulecki argues that we have ended up with some sort of an “opt-out deal” – the EU managed to largely exclude Poland from the deal (by giving the country what it wanted) to keep it quiet.
“Is it in our interest to push for the development of one sector of the economy, or to push to have clean air?”, asked Magdalena Sroda, a leading Polish philosopher, professor of ethics at the University of Warsaw, author and commentator, in a radio interview just after the summit. From the way Polish politicians present the limits on the CO2 emissions as a national tragedy, we can only see that the dirtier and more polluted Poland is, the prettier it is.” “We are a backward and parochial country.” she concluded.
The European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso said that “this package is very good news for our fight against climate change. No player in the world is as ambitious as the EU.”
Well, he is right. Poland, victorious or backward, signed the deal and the EU can move on. For now, anyway.