Poland’s energy and environment chameleon shows his true colours

The chameleon changes according to its surroundings. Image CC BY-SA 2.0 Orest

The Polish Minister for the Environment, Andrzej Kraszewski, has been sending some very mixed messages. Poland begins its first 6 month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on the 1st of July, and is therefore under increasing scrutiny for its policy positions and coherence.

In a Letter to the Editor published in European Voice today (paying subscibers may view today’s issue here,  others can see the letters page by clicking here), QCEA describes how, whilst it is no surprise that a politician knows how to adapt their message to different audiences, this has been illustrated in an extreme fashion with respect to Poland’s attitudes relating to energy, resources, climate and the environment.

At this year’s EU Green Week Conference in Brussels, 24-27 May, an event where environmental interests were heavily represented, the Polish minister for the Environment, Andrzej Kraszewski, told the audience that our planet is finite. Our resources are limited, and yet growth is exponential. Mr. Kraszewski went on to say that we are over-consuming and we must reduce consumption, especially in developed countries. His speech was both bold and impressive for an incumbent minister in a country that rarely prioritises the environment.

But at a different event the previous week – the European Economic Congress – in Katowice, Poland, 16-18 May, an event overrun with representatives of banks, investment funds and the fossil fuel industry, the Polish Environment Minister had a very different message. Coal, Kraszewski said, is and will remain a major contributor to Poland’s energy security, and must play its part in enabling the Polish economy to develop. Kraszewski reassured his audience that the prospect of an increase of the EU’s emissions reduction target, from 20 to 30 per cent by 2020, is not at its final stage and there are still things that can be done to stop it.

Mixed messages is putting it rather mildly – promoting coal as Poland’s economic and energy future, with a deliberate aim of frustrating an increase to a 30 per cent emissions reductions target, is disturbingly different to the necessity of reducing energy and resource consumption. It did not take long before clarity was provided however. At last week’s (21st June) Council of Environment Ministers in Luxembourg, Kraszewski dropped the pretence and Poland unilaterally blocked the Council’s ambition to raise emissions reductions targets above 20 per cent, part of discussions over a long-term carbon “road map” setting out the most cost-effective way for member states to reduce emissions by 80-95 per cent by 2050.

Several Member States had been pushing for a 30 per cent cut, including the UK, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Greece, and according to the Financial Times (FT), officials said a compromise target of 25 per cent was supported by all Member States except Poland. Unanimity is necessary for proposals to be taken forward, and thus Poland, on the eve of its presidency, stifled this attempt by Europe to be more ambitious.

The FT reported that Kraszewski said more analysis is required and the impact on particular countries should be taken into account. “We expect greater solidarity within Europe and an understanding of the situation of specific member states.” It may be frustrating for those advocating higher emissions reductions targets, as QCEA is, but this rhetoric of solidarity and the specific contexts of each member state should not be shrugged off lightly.

If Poland's future is coal, the climate's future is bleak. Image CC BY-SA 3.0 I, Nostrifikator

For Poland, the reality is that they generate 90 per cent of their electricity from coal. This goes a long way to explain why Poland has “long been one of the most vociferous opponents of the EU’s climate change policy” (FT).

Speaking to the Polish Press Agency (PAP) a few days before the meeting of the Environment Ministers in Luxembourg, Kraszewski remarked that:

“What is good for France, with a 60 per cent share of nuclear energy or for Germany, the richest EU country or for Sweden, who have a large portion of hydro energy in their energy mix, does not have to be good for Poland, which is to such a great extent dependent on coal. A higher reduction target for these other countries will cost much less than it will cost Poland.”

For the Polish Environment minister, an integral part of the unity that the European Union provides is solidarity. “For that reason the burden of our common goals that we consider important, should be divided among all the countries according to the solidarity principle and not in such a way that some states take on a much bigger burden and others a much smaller burden”.

“We consider assuming higher reduction targets, without a deep economic analysis of the impacts of such a decision on individual countries as contrary to the idea of EU solidarity” Kraszewski stressed. “That is why Poland will not agree to any emission reduction target increase above the 20 per cent until we are presented with such an analysis and until we are convinced that the burden taken by each country is comparable.”

It is important to understand where Poland is coming from in order to address their concerns. Poland is extremely heavily dependent on coal, for its energy supply, for its industry, for providing jobs, for keeping its citizens warm in the winter. These are noble goals, shared by all member states. However, the message that QCEA wishes to send to Polish ministers, MEPs and permanent representatives, is that Poland’s focus on coal, and more recently, its intensive push for shale gas, are supply-side solutions to a consumption side problem. If your bath has a hole in it, the rational response is not to constantly search for new supplies of water to keep it full – it is to block the hole.

Polish Environment Minister Andrzej Kraszewski sees coal as Poland's future. Image CC BY-SA 3.0 Art. fot. Leonard Karpiłowski

Poland’s vulnerability to energy price volatility, its concerns over energy dependence on Russia, its struggles to create employment and its drive for economic development can all be helped enormously by the realization of Poland’s huge energy savings potential. Like many of the Central and Eastern European countries, there are huge inefficiencies in energy production, supply and consumption, which are in part a legacy from Soviet days. Waste and profligacy are inbuilt into the system. Intrinsic inefficiencies in traditional power systems, like coal fired power stations, mean that 33 units of energy consumed at the point of use require 100 units of primary energy. From 100 units of energy, 65 units are lost in generation, 2 units in transmission, so only 33 units of energy get to the end use stage, where further inefficiencies like poorly insulated homes, energy intensive products and consumer behaviour mean that much of the energy at the end use stage is wasted too.

Poland’s position is in large part based on the feared economic consequences of implementing deep emission cuts. Yet the economic consequences of not doing so are far worse.

  • In the short term, Poland loses out in becoming a market leader in renewable and energy efficiency technologies, and becoming experts in how to catalyze energy savings and behavioural change. They fail to create the much needed jobs in these areas – the renewable energy sector is more labour intensive than other energy sectors: an investment of $1 million (around €720 000 or 2,700,000 zł) is estimated to create 2.9 jobs in the nuclear field, 3.4 in oil, 4.8 in coal, 10.4 jobs in wind and solar and 12.8 jobs in retrofitting houses. For every Euro invested in the sustainable refurbishment of housing, two Euros that would have been needed for the production of energy are saved. And remember, for every unit of energy saved at the point of use, three units of primary energy are not consumed.
  • In the medium term, Poland disadvantages itself by delaying an inevitable transition to clean, renewable energy – coal and shale gas may last a while longer, but they are nonetheless finite and the change will have to happen eventually. Whether this is before or after it is too late for our climate is the critical question.
  • In the long term, failing to cut emissions may well undermine the climatic conditions necessary for any kind of economic activity.

About Rachel Tansey

Rachel was a QCEA Programme Assistant on Sustainable Energy Security between November 2010 and November 2011.

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