Climate Change, Coal and Curbing a Lobbyocracy?

All EU Member States face lobbying from fossil fuel companies, and singling out any specific country does not alter the fact that it is endemic. However, a couple of very pertinent case studies have recently come to QCEA’s attention, documenting how powerful lobby groups have disproportionately skewed the debate. These cases serve to illustrate that advocating greater transparency and public discussion of the interests that different lobbyists represent, plays a crucial part in the fight against climate change.

The cases in question relate to the UK and Poland. The UK government promised to be the “greenest ever”, but the government’s own Conservative MEPs blocked a motion for increased emissions reduction targets in the European Parliament. Poland currently holds the EU presidency and recently unilaterally blocked an increase in CO2 reduction targets in the European Council. A common factor in these stories, from opposite ends of Europe, is the pervasive presence of a self-interested and conservative energy lobby.

The pervasive presence of the fossil fuel lobby - inside the European Parliament, Brussels. Image CC BY WL

The UK government has publicly been promoting an EU-wide 30 per cent emissions reduction target by 2020. This goal however was recently thwarted by Conservative Party MEPs, who, on 5th July, went against the party and government line, as well as a direct plea from the Prime Minister, and voted against an increase to 30 per cent.

Chris Huhne, the UK’s secretary for Climate Change, has ordered a private inquiry into which fossil fuel lobbyists “got to” the Conservative MEPs. As reported in the Guardian, recent research has shown that, in 2010, UK Conservative MEPs had ‘four times as many meetings with fossil fuel companies, carmakers and others against stronger action on global warming than with green businesses and those pushing for deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.’

The 25 Tory MEPs met at least 300 representatives from fossil fuel businesses and their lobbyists in 2010 at more than 200 meetings, compared with about 70 representatives from green industries or lobby groups (meetings related to climate change, renewable energy and similar issues, but excluding meetings about unrelated issues such as agriculture and biodiversity). They attended at least 100 meetings with gas and oil companies and 75 meetings with car manufacturers, notably Ford, the UK’s Association of Electricity Producers, which has strongly opposed any increase in carbon emissions cuts, and the UK Petroleum Industry Association. Given these statistics, it certainly looks like the disproportional influence of the carbon lobby has seriously and detrimentally influenced the policy process. Or, as another commentator has put it, that the “Conservative party in Europe is in the pocket of big oil”.

If the UK, whose highest politicians are behind tougher climate legislation, couldn’t stand up to the pressure of the carbon lobby, what are the hopes for Poland, a country that, as previously documented by QCEA, is extremely heavily dependent on coal? The richest man in Poland, Mr Jan Kulczyk, whose private property is estimated at PLN 8.5 billion (about €2.1 billion), is  a businessman with investments ranging from oil extraction in Nigeria, Syria and Indonesia to gas extraction in Ukraine and plans for greenfield coal power plants in Poland and Ukraine. An affiliate of Kulczyk Investment (Jan Kulczyk’s company), Elektrownia Pólnoc Ltd., plans to build a new coal-fired power plant in the north of Poland – at a capacity of 2000 MW, it would be the largest greenfield coal-fired power plant in Europe.

Jan Kulczyk, the richest man in Poland, one of the faces behind a powerful and regressive pro-coal and anti-climate legislation lobby group. Image under GFDL Liscence Kulczyk Investments SA, via Wikipedia Commons

The proposed Północ plant would be located in the Pomerania region, which until now has had no coal industry and in recent years has witnessed an unprecedented surge in wind energy projects. Given its size and output, the plant would hinder this progress in wind and lock Poland into a carbon-intensive energy production model for decades to come, endangering the country’s ability to meet EU emissions reduction targets. According to CEE Bankwatch Network, the Północ power plant’s yearly CO2 emissions would be over 13 million tones, which is equivalent to the yearly CO2 emissions of Latvia and Malta, or more than the yearly emissions of Sudan, Kenya, Armenia or Luxembourg, in 2009.  The estimated €3.1 to €3.86 billion project is seeking public funding from both the EIB and the EBRD, which if secured, means precious resources will be driven away from energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Recently, Kulczyk has been an eager promoter and brain behind Central European Energy Partners CEEP – a lobby effort of some of Poland’s biggest energy companies, and of which Kulczyk Investments is a member. CEEP seeks to represent Central and Eastern European Countries (or the EU10 – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia), pulling high-level politicians and scientific community  representatives on board to lobby against the EU’s climate and energy package and any attempt to increase the CO2 emissions reduction targets.

CEEP’s position is that the EU’s ‘environmental policy should not be further tightened’ and the EU should ‘strengthen the security in energy sector by enabling use of the cheapest and the most available indigenous energy sources, whilst still achieving constant reduction of CO2.’ In other words, coal. CEEP argues that the climate commitments of the EU’s competitors must be taken into account, and the other leading world economies see an important role for indigenous fuels (gas, coal, lignite, oil shale). For example, global coal consumption is expected to grow more than 55 per cent by 2035. In the EU however, ‘practically no coal is planned as a source of energy. This contradicts with the plans of economies such as China, India, USA, Brazil, and others. Solid fuels are the cheapest source of energy, and therefore are not ignored by the world economies.’

The EU favours gas over coal, due to its lower CO2 emissions – if coal emissions were put at 100 per cent, then CO2 emissions from gas would be 59 per cent. Both energy sources are envisaged by the EU to require carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. However, CEEP is not fighting for new coal with CCS, but rather says, ‘CCS’s future application is rather controversial and not clearly defined’. CEEP argues that the use of indigenous fuels [read: coal] in Central Europe is critical for their economic and social situation, and provides evidence for this statement in a graph, which simply shows that the EU10 have high proportions of coal in their energy mixes. This is, in effect, arguing that because these countries are currently dependent on coal, it is therefore critical that they remain dependent on coal. Now, who is it that said you cannot argue from an “is” to an “ought”? Oh yes, philosopher David Hume.

Nonetheless, CEEP urges the Commission to reconsider its position of preference for gas over indigenous fuels [read: coal], predicting that otherwise there will be enormous costs to the EU, and especially EU-10 economies, and demands that the EU substantially reviews its policy connected with the climate and CO2 emissions. But what does CEEP recommend in place of these policies? Well, so their argument goes, the average energy efficiency of indigenous fuel [read: coal] power stations is around 34 per cent, but new technologies allow them to achieve 44 per cent. Thus, if you build a new [coal] power plant, the CO2 emissions will be (up to) 50 per cent less than older generations of [coal] power plants. If CCS was deployed on a large scale, (which CEEP says is unlikely in the years to come, as it is too expensive and would make electricity too expensive for a competitive EU10 economy), a further decrease of CO2 would be possible.

So here’s what CEEP suggests: instead of the current climate/energy legislation, the Commission should promote coal power and simply require new coal power plants to be at least 40 per cent efficient. That’s all. The criteria would be reviewed every five years, and a plant’s normal lifespan of 20 years could be increased by one year per one per cent increase in efficiency (from future investments) or one per cent decrease in C02 emissions (from future technologies, such as CCS). Coal should become the priority, with no emissions limits or CCS requirements, only that we ensure new plants are built so that only 60 per cent of energy is wasted in the electricity generation process. And since that’s a better level of efficiency than 30 years ago, we’re “saving” emissions. Efficiencies will continue to increase incrementally, so we’ll continue making (negligible) emissions reductions.

There you have it. That is the dangerous and deeply conservative position of a fossil fuel and industry lobby group representing 11 energy companies, who claim to be the voice of 10 countries, and to be the guardians of the sole route to a future of economic success and energy security for Central European Countries. A group who don’t just want business-as-usual, but who actually want to move backwards. A group who are doing their best to convince those in power that coal is the only way these countries can compete, obscuring that fact that it will merely lock them into years of more dirty development which is destined to die out eventually. CEEP is:

  • Steering these countries further in the wrong direction, damaging their competitiveness in the renewables and energy efficiency industries. The same industrializing countries, India, China, Brazil, etc. that CEEP cites as having coal in their energy mix are in fact overtaking Europe in its leading market position in renewables.
  • Ignoring the plain fact that predictions about future energy use are based on certain scenarios, for example, business-as-usual vs. energy conservation, which we, now, have choices in making and which will shape the future energy trajectories.
  • Ignoring the fact that the renewables and energy efficiency sectors create more jobs than the fossil fuel industry.
  • Ignoring the fact that the relative costs of different kinds of energy depend on when and how much they are invested in, relative to other kinds of energy.
  • Glossing over the fact that the Chief Executives of the energy companies comprising CEEP personally make billions out of the status quo and are set to make even more if they could convince the EU to prioritize coal.
  • Ignoring the fact that even if they got what they wanted, thereby enabling the Central European countries to march happily down a carbon intensive development path, it would be at an unacceptable and unpayable cost to people and planet.
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About Rachel Tansey

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

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