Polish election result improves prospects for EU climate ambition

The defeat of Poland’s Law and Justice party is expected to speed up the roll-out of renewables in Poland and boost cooperation with Brussels

Polish election result improves prospects for EU climate ambition

Poland's outgoing prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki (Photo credit: European Union)


Poland’s opposition parties scored a surprise win in a general election on Sunday, boosting the prospects for renewables in Poland and for ambitious EU climate policy.

After ruling for eight years, the right-wing Law and Justice party got 35% of the vote – the biggest share for a single party but not enough to stay in power. The opposition is expected to form a government by the end of December.

Robert Tomaszewski, a senior energy analyst at Warsaw-based think tank Polityka Insight told Climate Home the results, driven by a high turnout, came as a surprise to many observers and felt like “spring in the autumn”.

But while Tomaszewski and Forum Energii analyst Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk said that the new government was likely to speed up Poland’s renewable roll-out and cooperate better with the rest of Europe, it was unlikely to take on the country’s powerful coal mining unions directly.

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The outgoing Polish government, led by the Law and Justice party, has been a brake on the European Union’s climate ambition, opposing several measures.

In June, it threatened to take the European Union to court to try and stop its phase-out of polluting vehicles and other climate laws. The new government is likely to withdraw this legal challenge, Tomaszewski and Gawlikowska-Fyk said.

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Polish ministers and state-owned utilities also launched a misinformation campaign against the EU’s climate policies, writing opinion pieces and putting up billboards blaming the EU’s carbon pricing system for the rising cost of energy.

The head of E3G’s Brussels office Manon Dufour told Climate Home that the change in government would raise the chances of the EU’s 2040 emissions reduction target being ambitious. The EU’s scientific advisers have said it should be 90-95% below 1990 levels.

No coal fight

Tomaszewski and Gawlikowska-Fyk said that the outgoing government had taken some steps to encourage renewables and the new government was likely to go further, working with the EU and private investors.

Tomaszewski said the new government was likely to change the rules around onshore wind turbines, to make them easier to build.

Gawlikowska-Fyk said that investment was needed to integrate these renewables into Poland’s energy system. “It’s grids, grids, grids,” she said.

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On the other hand neither expected the new government to take on the coal mining unions. Local and European elections are scheduled for next year and the government will not want miners  to protest during the election campaign, they said.

Poland is among Europe’s most coal-dependent countries – both for electricity and for heating – and under a deal signed with the mining unions in 2020 does not plan to stop coal mining until 2049.

Tomaszewski said that, while it would cause a political headache, pushing this date forward wouldn’t help the climate because market forces would phase out coal way before 2049 anyway.

Gawlikowska-Fyk agreed. “There’s an awareness in Poland that 2049 is impossible,” she said, as the EU’s carbon trading scheme means licences to pollute will become scarce and expensive for coal power plants.

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