Rhein on Energy and Climate

From 11 November to 22 November, the 19th international climate conference (COP19) opened in Warsaw – the capital of Poland and the most reticent EU country on climate policies.

Two reasons account for the Polish resistance against a resolute climate policy.

Conservative intellectuals and media deny the existence of climate change.

A conservative periodical – Uwazam Rze- recently called global warming an absurdity. Carbon dioxide is no poison but a mildly warming gas that is indispensable for plant growth. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is therefore wrong in claiming that there is climate change and mainly caused by human activities.

Economic interests go in parallel with these ideological aberrations. Poland is Europe’s biggest coal producer with the most important reserves of coal and lignite. About 90 per cent of its electricity and heat are generated with coal. The sector, mostly in the hands of state-owned companies, is a major employer, which explains the strong support by trade unions for maintaining the coal industry and the coal-fired electricity sector.

It is not surprising either that the conservative Right organised an anti-climate summit in Warsaw on Sunday November 10th inviting the government to veto any EU efforts for a more vigorous EU climate policy.

Poland constitutes a formidable brake on a more resolute EU climate policy, even it has no formal legal power to veto EU decisions or legislation. But Poland has managed to delay important decisions related to climate policy in 2013.

In the spring of 2014 the EU will have to adopt its climate policy targets for 2030. These should provide for a reduction of C02 emissions of about 40 per cent, compared to 1990, to be consistent with the tentative 80-90 per cent reduction target for 2050.

The Polish government will find such a target hard to accept. It will feel it even more difficult to realise that all Polish coal deposits cannot be burnt.

The EU Commission, supported by member countries must therefore launch an awareness debate in the next three months and demonstrate that it is feasible to reduce emissions by investing massively in energy efficiency of buildings, electricity generation and manufacturing, without impairing employment.

It is also overdue for Poland and all other member states to realise that national energy independence will have to belong to the past, as the completion of the single European energy market at the end of 2014 should boost import of electricity and gas from neighbouring member countries.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 17/11/2013

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