The European Union has ambitions to become a climate neutral economy by 2050. However, for now, these plans collided with the opposition of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Estonia, which blocked the adoption of appropriate provisions. Does this mean that our country acts as a brakeman of EU climate policy? – asks Piotr Stępiński, journalist of BiznesAlert.pl.
Among the discussions about the ambitions of individual states about the division of key positions in the European Union, held during the last week’s summit, there was also a place to address the issue of climate ambitions. The heads of government in Brussels were formally obligated by the European Commission and the EU Council to create a framework to determine how to ensure climate neutrality by 2050. In other words, what needs to be done so that by that time the EU economy would quit fossil fuels.
Defense of Polish interests
The relevant provisions have been blocked by Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Estonia. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, explaining his decision, said: “All conditions regarding possible compensatory mechanisms for Member States, regions and industries must be very strictly defined. We are not satisfied with the wording regarding fair and responsible energy transformation”. In turn, in an interview with the Polish Press Agency, the Prime Minister stressed that our country is in favor of an ambitious and innovative climate policy, but it sets conditions. – This is a very important element of Poland’s development for us. However, we will not agree that Polish entrepreneurs should bear costs that are disproportionate to energy consumption and CO2 emissions resulting from it – he stated.
Due to the strong dependence of the economy and energy on coal, Poland is exposed to strong exposure from rising prices for CO2 emission allowances. The price of this dependence Poles pay not only in energy bills, but also in purchased goods. Paradoxically, on the one hand the EU climate and energy policy is an opportunity to change the energy mix, but on the other, a burden. Money that could further support the transformation of the Polish energy sector instead of investments is allocated to the purchase of CO2 emission allowances. Coal heritage is more and more expensive, but it is not the result of Poland’s special love for this raw material. In contrast to many European Union Member States, Poland started its path to change the energy sector from a different place, hence the dependence of decisions on specific support seems justified. Information on the conduct of talks in Brussels is fragmentary. Did you really mention compensations and the amount of support? It is difficult to commit to something if you do not know the details unless they are actually given.
Was the veto necessary?
The summit conclusions were to become exclusively an obligation to set the framework for reaching the goal of climate neutrality. Was the veto of Poland necessary at the initial stage? Was not it worthwhile to wait for specific solutions that would be worked out through work at the level of the European Union? Apart from that, the Polish veto appeared just a day after the European Commission published a critical evaluation of our Plan for Energy and Climate, or strategy for climate and energy transformation in the next decade, alleging, among others excessive vagueness and too low ambitions for the RES objective. It can be in conflict with declarations of will for ambitious energy transformation.
It is not known what could have been more worrying: either the time census set for 2050 or the slogan of climate neutrality. In a country where coal remains the basic fuel and a source of income for many people, the slogan of abandonment will arouse emotions. These, on the other hand, are unlikely to be desired in the context of the parliamentary elections scheduled for autumn. It is also worth noting that the idea of climate neutrality did not suddenly appear in the EU agenda, because the it was announced in November last year. What has the Polish government done since then? There was time for preliminary talks in this area.
There is a risk that Poland’s veto may be perceived as a Warsaw flip-flop against the EU climate policy. Although the provisions on climate neutrality were also blocked by the Czechs, Hungarians and Estonians, attention is focused on the Poles. In the western media, headlines appear suggesting that it is Warsaw that is blocking EU climate ambitions. Therefore, the UE will go with nothing for the UN summit devoted to combating global warming, planned for September. Maintaining such a narrative can, for example, weaken the voice of Poland in the course of ongoing discussions about the distribution of funds from the next financial perspective, or make it difficult to push through national demands in other sectors. Probably it will not be easier to get the country’s portfolio of energy and climate commissioner.
Tackling climate ambitions?
So, is Poland’s veto really a torpedoing of EU policy, which is what environmentalists accuse from Greenpeace? It certainly does not make it easier to lead, but let’s look at it more broadly. It is worth noting that among vetoing countries were also those that produce energy not only from coal (though not as much as Poland – ed.), But also from nuclear power plants (Hungary and the Czech Republic), which is a zero-emission source. Let us recall that for a long time opposition to the provisions on neutrality was Germany led by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her plan for Germany’s exit from coal was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent (compared to 1990 – editorial note) by 2020, by 55 percent by 2030, and by 95 percent by 2050. Ultimately, however, she changed her mind. It cannot be ruled out that this was the result of the growing support of the Greens, who are ahead of the CDU in some surveys. The only question is whether our western neighbors are indeed able to achieve climate neutrality, as Berlin is already openly saying that it will fail to achieve the 2020 target for reducing CO2 emissions. Anyway, in the years 2014-2017, despite Energiewende, and thus the green transformation, Germany increased its emissions from 748.4 to 762.6 million tonnes. It is true that last year they diminished it to the lowest level since December 2000, 725.7 million tons, but this was mainly the effect of a warm winter.
In this context, it should be noted that contrary to popular opinion, it is not Poland, and our western neighbors which are the largest emitter of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion in the European Union, accounting for 22.5 per cent of emissions. In this ranking, our country ranks third in the European Union (10.3 percent). Only Germany (22.5 percent) and Great Britain (11.4 percent) emit more from us. Unfortunately, according to Eurostat data, last year Poland was in the group of eight countries in the European Union, which recorded an increase in CO2 emissions. Although in this respect our country was not a leader, the 3.5% increase should not be optimistic. Few people remember that our country was one of the global leaders in reducing CO2 emissions. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Poland was supposed to reduce emissions by 6 percent, and ultimately managed to achieve a 30 percent reduction. Currently, it is difficult to maintain such indicators.
Will Poland change its mind?
The successes from years ago do not have a shine anymore. It is worth emphasizing, however, that our country is not passive in terms of departing from coal. According to the energy strategy designed by 2040, the share of coal in the energy mix is to fall from the current 80 to 30 percent. One cannot delude that from day to day Poland will turn off all coal-fired power plants and fill up mines. Warsaw is more and more boldly talking about limiting the role of coal, but the declaration must result real action and not excluded that perhaps greater ambition. A certain consolation may be the fact that there is a change in rhetoric regarding the discussion about climate neutrality. We do not criticize the proposals, but we are open to talks. However, this is still not enough. The topic of climate neutrality will not disappear from the EU agenda. It is true that the summit conclusions called for guidance on this issue to be set by the end of this year and adopted at the beginning of 2020, but it is possible that another summit will be convened soon. On it, attempts may be made to convince Poland and other states blocking relevant provisions. This time will show whether the negotiation strategy adopted by the Polish government proved to be the right action.