Monday, 4 November 2013

Lobbying Against Emission Cuts

Polska wersja tutaj na Lewica24... 

From November 11 probably the most important international conference of the year will start in Warsaw. Delegates from 192 countries will gather in Poland’s capital city in an attempt to set a timetable towards agreeing a global, binding agreement on emissions reduction. Scientific evidence now irrefutably shows the connection between carbon emissions and climate change; and the international community has to act now or it really will be too late. 

Yet in Poland you would hardly know that this conference is taking place. There has been next to no coverage about it in the media and the government almost seems to want to keep quiet that it will be hosting the event. The reason for this embarassment is of course its continual opposition to raising emission targets inside the EU and the decision of the government to develop its coal industry at the expense of investment in renewable energies. 

Poland currently only emits around 1% of all global greenhouse gasses, having an emissions per capita level that is similar to the EU average. However, its economy is one of the least carbon efficient in the EU, primarily due to its energy sector being heavily dependent upon coal. Almost 85% of all its electricity is produced from coal; with two thirds of the installed coal capacity being more than 30  years old. 

The Polish PM Donald Tusk has recently announced that coal would remain the basis of the Polish energy sector, with his government (sometimes alongside the British Conservatives) blocking attempts in the EU to increase targets for reducing carbon emissions. This potentially has extremely negative consequences, as the EU has been attempting to increase its emissions cut to 30% by 2020,  in return for other countries pledging themselves to similar goals.  

The arguments of Polish politicians for opposing such agreements range from the dishonest to the ridiculous. On the one hand, politicians such as Tusk have argued that Poland is unable to meet the targets set by the EU and that as an economy heavily dependent upon coal it would be irresponsible to agree to the EU plans. He has an easy ride on this matter, as his opposite number (Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the Law and Justice Party – PiS) continues to argue that carbon dioxide has no impact on the climate and that the decision to hold such a conference in Warsaw on Poland’s Independence Day is a provocation. Leaving aside the arguments of these ‘flat-earthers’, is the Polish government right that it should not be expected to move away from its coal based economy? 

The Polish economy’s dependency upon coal is a legacy of Communism and the failures of the system that replaced it. The huge industrialisation, including the development of coal, after the Second World War was carried out with scant regard for the environment and without knowledge of its effect on climate change. The transition to a capitalist economy from 1989, instigated an initial economic decline and a process of deindustrialisation that had a positive unintended consequence of significantly reducing carbon emissions. However, in recent years economic growth has once again been combined with an increase  in carbon emissions. 

Now an argument could be made that the hardship caused by the closure of many of Poland’s industries, that has made it dependent upon imports from the richer economies to its west, means that it should now protect its coal industry against the environmental plans of the EU. Such an argument does indeed carry some weight. It would be irresponsible and impossible to quickly close Poland's coal industry; and the EU should be supporting the countries in Central Eastern Europe to modernise their energy sectors. However, the actions of the Polish government take away its moral high ground on this issue; and reveal how it is more concerned with its narrow interests and connections to big business than it is about improving the Polish economy, let alone the environment. 

Although the Polish government has committed itself to increasing the share of renewable energies,  as a total of energy production, to 15% by 2020, it has stated that this will then only rise by a further 1% by 2030. It still envisages that at this time nearly ¾ of its total energy will come from Co2 intensive energy sources, primarily coal. Rather than prioritising the development of alternative energy sources, the government is building a new coal fuelled heat and power plant in the north of Poland. This is a region that as yet has no coal industry and the construction of this plant (that will have yearly Co2 emissions equal to Latvia and Malta) is diverting resources away from the development of renewable energy. Scandalously, the Polish government is receiving a loan from the European Investment Bank to build it - so much for EU emissions targets!

The government is developing the coal industry in Poland hand in hand with big business. One of the major investors in the project to build this power plant is Elektrownia Pólnoc Ltd, which is an affiliate of Kulczy Investment (owned by Poland’s ‘richest man’: Jan Kulczyk). Kulczyk is a leading figure behind the lobby group Central European Energy Partners (CEEP), that promotes the coal industry and campaigns for climate targets not to be tightened in the EU. 

It has been well documented how much of the infrastructure developed during Communism was inefficient, wasteful and now outdated. However in many cases, since the collapse of Communism, this infrastructure has been closed or allowed to deteriorate, rather than being replaced, improved and modernised.  The energy sector is a case in point, with Polish capitalism failing to advance beyond what had been created over half a century earlier and create a viable and sustainable modern energy sector. The Polish government is currently using public and EU money to grow a coal industry, whilst doing  practically nothing to build new renewable sources of energy. By doing so it is helping to block progress in the EU and internationally on tackling climate change, whilst entrenching the country’s underdevelopment in one of its economy’s most important sectors.

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