UN climate talks unlikely to dent Poland’s appetite for coal

Hosts of 2013 climate summit say they have no plans to halt construction of 2GW coal plant on the Vistula River

Elektrownia Jaworzno III coal plant in Poland. (Pic: Beemwej)

By Nilima Choudhury

Plans to construct a coal plant in Europe threaten Poland’s credibility on climate change, say environmental groups.

Polish investment company Kulczyk announced plans for a 2GW coal plant on the Vistula River two years ago, which would produce over 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

NGOs say this calls into question the country’s decision to host this year’s major UN climate change summit, set to start in Warsaw on 11 November.

The groups, including ClientEarth Poland, Eco-Koclewie, Workshop for All Beings, Greenpeace and WWF, have warned the plant poses a threat to some of the rarest and most vulnerable species of fish which could suffer altered migration patterns and increased mortality rates, as they react to temperature changes from water and waste discharge from the plant.

A spokesman for ClientEarth Poland told RTCC that, despite hosting climate change talks this year, the government’s views on coal will not be altered.

“[The] most powerful Polish parties both from the left and the right side of the political stage consider European climate policy as a danger. It means that we do not intend to withdraw from hard coal and lignite based energy.

“This is a huge mistake. All players [at COP19] are aware that no substantial decision can be made this year.”

Ahead of COP19 in Warsaw in November, Poland is under increasing pressure to show leadership on climate change, but a senior member of the European Parliament told RTCC that the talks “might change their [Poland’s] vocabulary but I don’t know if it’ll change their minds.”

Chris Davies, team leader of the European Parliament’s European Parliament’s Environment Committee, said: “The Polish government has been instrumental in blocking attempts to ensure there is a price on carbon.

“They give every impression of having a very large coal industry that wants to change as little as possible.”

During talks on emissions cuts at COP18, Poland, along with Russia, Canada, the US and Japan, were accused of making a “mockery of the negotiations” by holding them to ransom, said Samantha Smith, WWF’s global climate end energy initiative last year.

Davies said, “If there was a global agreement [on carbon emission targets] then EU member states would feel obliged into supporting measures to meet its requirements. No one’s expecting an agreement before 2015 – at best I wouldn’t expect the target to be reached a day before it has to be.”

Market analysts Frost & Sullivan said in a recent report that Poland has the best outlook for new coal plants in Europe, although the story even there is one of slowing down investment. They attribute this resurgence of coal in Europe to the US shale gas ‘revolution’.

“Rising shale gas output has made the US independent of gas imports and has led to a dramatic decline in the price of natural gas,” said Frost & Sullivan energy industry director Harald Thaler.

President-designate of COP19 Marcin Korolec dismissed concerns that Poland was the wrong choice to host the next UN climate summit, pointing to its previous history of running a COP in 2008 as evidence that it was committed to securing a global climate deal.

Korolec said, “By being creative, the world can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while creating jobs, promoting economic growth and ensuring better living standards. Where there is a will, there is a way.”

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