Rhein on Energy and Climate

At the ongoing international climate conference in Poznan the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has rightly underscored that “our work for the environment should be timeless”. This commitment for preserving the global climate does not prevent the Polish government from raising serious objections to the EU climate package, which the European Council is scheduled to approve December 10/11.

Poland objects above all to the power component of the package. It wants to obtain an exception from the Commission proposal obliging EU power utilities to reduce their C02 emissions by 20 percent until 2020, starting in 2013 and have their emission rights to be 100 percent auctioned. Poland depends for 94 percent of its electricity supply on coal-fired power plants, higher than in any other member state. It does not have nuclear power plants and its electricity generation from renewable sources, above all biomass, remains still very low.

The exceptionally high dependency on coal is, however, not a sufficient reason for granting Poland an exception. It should respect the 20 percent reduction target by 2020, and its power plants should have to buy emission rights in the markets like any power plant in the EU.

• In the EU Accession Treaty (2003) Poland has agreed to provide 7.5 percent of its global energy requirement from renewable sources, by 2010! It should be able to roughly double that percentage by 2020. That should easily enable its utilities to reduce their C02 emissions by 20 percent until 2020!
• Auctioning of emission rights is economically necessary to prevent utilities from making wind-fall profits. The EU had failed to impose auctioning for the period 2004-07. Its new proposal therefore corrects the mistake made earlier.
• The Polish coal industry is not sustainable. The least efficient mines, especially those for highly polluting lignite, will have to be closed in the coming years. CCS will only be profitable for the most efficient coal-fired power plants. The Polish government should use the opportunity of the climate package for addressing this issue.
• It should set aside essentially all 2014-20 EU structural funds – several billion Euros – for retrofitting and modernising its power sector and launching a huge investment programme for thermal insulation of its private and public buildings.
• The EU should promise Poland an adequate support from the 2014-2020 structural funds in return for Polish acceptance of its climate package.

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  1. How ironic that the leadership baton of climate change mitigation has been ‘dropped’ by the EU ready for president-elect Barack Obama to take and hold high.

    Poland is not alone in its ‘reluctance’ on emission reduction. Berlusconi’s Italy is deadset against further restrictions and I imagine an increasing number of finance ministries are quaking in the feet about the cost of climate change mitigation measures in the light of the current financial crisis.

    The enthousiasm for mitigation from the Gore film and Stern report of 2006-2007 has waned as the economy has stagnated.

    The private sector appears to be the only alternative to driving policy action on climate change, emission reduction and renewable energy infrastructure.

    Poland is not alone. The EU needs to consider expanding its ‘burden-sharing’ principle in the emission trading scheme to countries such as Poland and Italy who need radical reform and restructuring of their energy and industrial infrastructure.

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