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Poland Clings On to Coal

BRUSSELS, Jul 2 2012 (IPS) - Coal has brought its own compulsions for Poland, as it has for many other countries in the call to move to more renewable and cleaner sources of energy.

According to analysts, Poland’s staunch refusal of European emission targets is caused by its domestic reliance on coal. Data gathered by the European Commission shows that Poland is the largest hard coal producer in the EU. Currently the country has hard coal reserves totalling more than 16 billion tonnes. As a result, Poland’s import dependency is lowest in the EU, and its electricity generation is based more than 90 percent on coal.

“The country simply doesn’t want to lose sovereignty over its own energy strategy,” Daniel Fraile, senior energy policy officer of Climate Action Network-Europe, told IPS. “And they don’t see how they could move to a higher level of renewable energy. The country is economically too dependent on its coal industry. Even out of principle, they would never support moving to renewables.”

“The Polish economy is indeed largely based on coal, but doesn’t mean there’s no space to consider renewables,” Esther Bollendorff, policy officer at Friends of the Earth Europe, told IPS. “There’s tremendously strong resistance in the country to consider an energy transition. Partly because the Polish government is very much infiltrated by the coal industry. But also because of the personality of Prime Minister Donald Tusk. He wants to get his opinion through in the EU, only to show his country is a strong player.”

But recent data shows that resistance to renewables might soon become disadvantageous to the Polish economy. According to Poland’s own energy road map, this is essentially because coal is expected to remain the main fuel for electricity generation until 2030.

Although the government road map foresees a general reduction of energy consumption in the Polish economy and a 19 percent share of renewables by 2020, electricity consumption is expected to increase by 30 percent by 2030.

As a result, although Poland has always been an exporter of coal, according to data by the European Association for Coal and Lignite (EUROCOAL), in recent years it has become a net importer of coal. Two years ago, imports of coal already amounted to 13.4 million tonnes.

“Energy consumption is increasing at such a rate that domestic sources cannot fulfil the demand anymore. The costs will get higher. So the country might want to reconsider what it is going to do in the future,” Bollendorff said.

Poland has isolated itself by refusing to decarbonise its energy system by 2050. During the latest talks between EU energy ministers, the heavily coal-reliant nation argued it would not accept carbon reduction targets without an international agreement. But this could be to their own disadvantage, analysts point out.

EU energy ministers gathered in Luxembourg on Jun. 15 to discuss the energy road map, an ambitious set of measures which would lead to close-to-zero carbon energy production by the middle of the century. The ministers from 26 EU member states backed the plan; only Poland opposed it.

In an official statement, the country’s economy minister said that “Poland cannot accept regulations concerning reduction targets after 2020 without reaching a global agreement on climate issues, and technologies reducing emissions at industrial scale are not implemented.”

In March, the country also refused to support a low carbon road map which sets targets for greenhouse gas emissions. According to the plan, these targets would be a 25 percent reduction by 2020, a 40 percent reduction by 2030, a 60 percent reduction by 2040 and an 80-95 percent reduction by 2050. Poland agreed with the 2050 targets but deemed the intermediate targets unnecessary.

The Danish EU presidency tried to prevent a Polish veto and cancelled out all reference to the 25 percent emission reduction by 2020, but Poland still refused.

At last week’s meeting, Poland requested that the word ‘decarbonisation’ in the document be redefined so it would also account for coal-fired power plants that use carbon capture and storage technology.

It also asked if a section on financial support for renewables could be changed to “financial support for low-carbon technologies”, so that nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage would also be eligible for support. When several states refused to accept this last change, Poland decided to veto the road map.

Because of Poland’s refusal to support both plans, no formal conclusion came out of the discussions, as all EU proposals need to be backed by a unanimous vote. Nevertheless, with the other 26 member states strongly supporting the bloc’s zero-carbon plans, the EU is determined to push its ambitious plans ahead.

Speaking at a press conference after the meeting, European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger suggested that legislation for emission targets in the future should only require a majority vote. The spokesperson for the Danish EU presidency said: “The resolution was supported by 26 EU countries, and that is a clear signal to the Commission that it can start working on legislative proposals for 2030.”

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