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OPINION: Where Governments Fail, It’s Up to the People to Rise

Stop Elektrownia Północ campaigners trying to stop investment in Europe’s biggest new coal power plant. Credit: C. Kowalski/350.org

WARSAW, Oct 27 2014 (IPS) - Pomerania in northern Poland is famous for its unpolluted environment, fertile soils and historic heritage. So far, these valuable farmlands have been free from heavy industry but that situation might change as a shadow looms over the lives of Pomeranians.

Its name is Elektrownia Północ, also known as the North Power Plant and, ever since we learned about it, we have been determined to stop Elektrownia Pólnoc.

If built, this coal-fired power plant would contribute to the climate crisis with 3.7 million tons of coal burnt annually, and lock Poland into coal dependency for decades.

It threatens to pollute the Vistula River, Poland’s largest river, with a rich ecosystem that is home to many rare and endangered species.

“The [Polish] government’s energy scenario, ironically labelled as sustainable, is based on coal and nuclear power. It promotes business as usual and hinders any development of renewable energy”

The threat of soil degradation and inevitable drainage keeps local farmers awake at night, not to mention the air pollution from the plant that will be a major health hazard, making the situation in Poland – already the most polluted country in Europe with more people dying from air pollution than from car accidents – even worse.

But this is not just about stopping one of a dozen fossil fuel projects currently under development. This is part of a much broader struggle.

While unemployment soars, the Polish government fails to stimulate green jobs and dismisses renewable energy as too expensive. At the same time, it is pumping billions into the coal industry. Unprofitable and un-modern, it thrives thanks to hidden subsidies that in the past 22 years added up to a mammoth sum equal to the country’s annual GDP.

The government’s energy scenario, ironically labelled as sustainable, is based on coal and nuclear power. It promotes business as usual and hinders any development of renewable energy.

The current government continues to block European Union climate policy, without which we can forget about a meaningful climate treaty being achieved in Paris next year.

All this takes place while we face the greatest environmental crisis in history and leaves us hopelessly unprepared for everything it brings about.

But Poland’s infamous coal dependence is all but given and the policy that granted our country the infamous nickname “Coal-land” is strikingly incompatible with the will of the Polish people. All around the country people are fighting coal plants, new mines and opposing fracking. We want Poland to be a modern country that embraces climate justice.

I went to New York to be part of the People’s Climate March, observe the U.N. Climate Summit and bring this very message from hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens whose voices had been ignored on domestic grounds to the international stage. Yet what I had not expected was how powerful an experience it would be.

With 400,000 people in the streets and thousands more all over the world, New York witnessed not only the largest climate march in history on Sep. 21 but a true change of tide: a beautiful, unstoppable wave of half a million representing hundreds of millions more – the stories unfolding, forming an epic tale not of loss or despair but of resilience, strength, responsibility and readiness to do what it takes to save this world.

For decades world leaders have been failing us, justifying their inaction with the supposed lack of people’s support, their talks poisoned by a ‘you move first’ approach.

The voices of those who marched echoing in the street and in the media, impossible to be ignored, left their mark on the Summit and resounded in many speeches given by world leaders. The march showed it more clearly than ever how strong the mandate for taking action is and, even more importantly, where the leadership truly lies.

Opening the Summit, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to politicians to take action to ensure a low-carbon, climate resilient and better future. “There is only one thing in the way,” he said, “Us”.

The march proved that there is a counter-movement challenging this stagnation. From individuals to communities, from cities to neighbourhoods and families, millions are working to make a better world a reality. Against all adversities, people around the world embrace the urgency of action and lead where the supposed leaders have failed.

For me this is the single most important message and a source of hope to take back home. A new chapter of climate protection has opened written by the diverse, powerful stream which flooded the streets in New York and beyond – not to witness but to make history.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Diana Maciaga works with the Polish NGO Workshop for All Beings (Pracownia na rzecz Wszystkich Istot), which specialises in protection of the wildest treasures of Poland. She has participated in Global Power Shift and Power Shift Central & Eastern Europe and is sharing her experience through campaigns and coordinating a training for local Polish leaders – “Guardians of Climate”. She is currently one of the organisers of the Stop Elektrowni Północ (Stop the ‘North Power Plant’) campaign against a new coal-fired facility in Poland.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

 
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