Coal set to be Poland’s main energy source until 2060

An energy strategy released by the Polish government claims coal is optimal fuel for Poland, but doesn’t take into account environmental cost 

Source: Flickr/FMJ Shooter

Source: Flickr/FMJ Shooter

By Sophie Yeo in Warsaw

Coal will remain Poland’s best energy option up to 2060, claims a report released by the Polish government this week.

As the United Nations gathered in Warsaw this week to hammer out a global climate change deal, Poland’s chancellery released its new energy strategy—its first since 2009.

The analysis looks at the options for Poland’s energy mix over the next 50 years. The report concludes that coal provides the cheapest, and therefore the optimal, solution to supply Poland’s power up to 2060.

While the report takes into account the potential for a high carbon price in the future—something which the Polish government has been resisting—environmentalists have condemned the report for failing to incorporate the environmental and social costs of coal.

“The analysis says the cheapest way to generate electricity for the next 50 years is through going into coal,” says Tobiasz Adamczewski from WWF-Poland. “This model shows that the optimal way of producing energy and the cheapest way possible is by doing it through coal.”

He adds that, while he welcomes the inclusion of various scenarios that the report takes into account, the results are skewed by the focus on the economics of Poland’s future energy mix to the exclusion of all other social costs.

“The problem that we have with it is that it hasn’t included outside costs, so it’s not quantified how much it will cost society and environment to keep going on this coal.

“If that was included in the model then I’m assuming that the outcome would be completely different, that the optimal least cost scenario would be based on something completely different.”

Asked on Thursday whether Poland had plans to radically shake up its energy mix, the country’s Environment Minister and current head of the climate talks Marcin Korolec replied: “coal is not a problem, a problem is how we use coal.”

External costs

Andrzej Kassenberg, President of the Institute for Sustainable Development in Poland, said that the government’s assertion that the external costs of producing coal could not be accurately quantified were flawed.

He said in an interview: “They mention that this study is without external costs but their criticism of the external cost calculation from our knowledge is not correct. They say they are not sure calculations. There are many calculations.

“There are calculations from Poland, for example, that the external cost of the production of electricity in Poland is 2.1% of the GDP per year—very high, because we are 90% based on coal.”

He added that, apart from the global warming issue, there are also pollutants associated with coal such as the small particles created by combustion that cause health problems in humans, as well as heavy metals—”And they are not calculated,” he said.

“If they calculated this, probably the results would be completely different.”

While the report is not a policy, the fact that it has been produced by the Polish Chancellery means that it is a “high ranking document,” says Adamczewski, and it aligns closely to the government’s enthusiasm to support its coal industry.

“The Prime Minister has been saying this for a long time, and this is the proof that he might have needed to show,” he adds.

Pawel Mikusek, spokesperson for the environment minister, responded that, since the 1990s, Poland has coupled CO2 reductions with GDP growth as part of its commitments under the EU and the Kyoto Protocol.

“We would follow the path of reductions no matter what final energy mix Poland will have in 2060,” he said.

“Sometimes better looking energy mix doesn’t mean bigger reductions [in emissions]. We focus on both reduction and low price of energy. Last 25 years in Poland have shown that it is possible.”

Clean coal?

The issue of whether coal can be truly “clean” will come to the fore at the UN’s climate change conference this coming week, when a coal summit will be held alongside the negotiations aimed at reaching a legally binding deal on greenhouse gas emissions, due to come into effect in 2020.

Poland has been heavily criticised for its decision to hold the coal summit at this crucial time. It has faced questions over its motivations for hosting the annual climate talks, where the level of corporate sponsorship has provoked outrage and unease.

But speaking at a press conference, Korolec said that inviting business to the summit made it more “transparent” and “inclusive”.

Protests from coal miners and trade unions are expected today in Warsaw, as those who work for the companies register their objection to any attempts to stymie the activity of Poland’s most polluting industry.

But the country’s continuing reliance on coal contrasts with the preferences of the vast majority of the Polish public.

Today, civil society and NGOs have planned a Climate Justice protest, starting in the main town of Warsaw and marching to the stadium, where the UN talks are being planned.

Data released on Thursday, collected by the CEM Market and Public Opinion Research Institute, found that 80% of Poles believe that climate change is a serious problem, and 63% want their energy produced from renewable sources.

Simultaneously, a poll by Greenpeace found that 73% of Poles would like Poland to be more involved in actions to prevent the negative effects of climate change.

But it will be an uphill battle against an industry that continues to attract hefty financial support.

In spite of the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, currently the world’s only binding climate treaty, a report released yesterday found that since 2005, banks’ financing of coal mining companies has increased by almost 400%.

The study, Banking on Coal, found that from 2005 to mid-2013, 89 banks gave €118bn to coal companies. 71% of this was provided by just 20 banks, with Citi being the most generous supporter of the industry. Morgan Stanley and Bank of America are also singled out for their heavy investments in coal.

“This is a real danger,” says Kuba Gogolewski, of the CEE Bankwatch Network, an organisation involved in the report.

“While policymakers are far too slow to regulate the mining and burning of coal, banks are speeding ahead with investments that are totally inconsistent with a stabilized climate.”

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