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22nd Feb 2020

Coal-dependent Poland 'behaves' in Paris

  • Poland gets most of its electricity from coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels (Photo: Kris Duda)

Fears that Poland will derail the negotiating process at the climate conference in Paris have, so far, not come true.

The summit, where 195 countries, plus the EU, are trying to reach a global climate treaty, is approaching the final phase of talks, with meetings lasting until 5am on Thursday morning (10 December).

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  • Poland's Duda: 'Decarbonisation not in our interest' (Photo: Andrzej Hrechorowicz)

In the months leading up to the summit, Polish politicians had been very vocal about defending the country's coal industry - most of the country's electricity is generated from the highly polluting fossil fuel.

In an interview with Politico in August, Poland's president Andrzej Duda said that “decarbonisation is completely not in our interest.” He made his remarks ahead of parliamentary elections in September, during which his right-wing party Law and Justice (PiS) won an absolute majority.

PiS member of parliament Piotr Naimski, who has energy in his portfolio, made even more strident comments during the election campaign, criticizing the EU position that the Paris agreement should be a legally binding.

“Any binding stance that would be accepted at the conference in Paris will be harmful to Poland, so a failure of the summit is in Poland's interest," Naimski said according to Reuters.

But here in Paris, it seems that the Polish delegation is not carrying out its threats, which appear to have been more for domestic consumption.

“We have an EU position and everybody sticks to that. I have not heard Poland is obstructing,” Helena Hellstroem Gefwert, a spokesperson for the Swedish delegation, told EUobserver on Wednesday.

“Poland is not stepping on the brakes,” a source from a second EU member state, who asked to be anonymous, said.

A third EU source noted that Poland is “really constructive” in Paris, showing “openness” to having a reference in the treaty text to “1.5,” which is climate jargon for limitng the future temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. During the two-week talks, an increasing number of delegations seem willing to mention 1.5, in addition to repeating an already agreed ceiling of 2 degrees.

“I don't think they [Poland] will create a mess here,” the third contact told this website on Thursday (10 December). “They behave here, they don't want to ruin the process.”

In what some say was partly a tactical move to quell potential opposition, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius named Poland's environment minister Jan Szyszko as one of his “co-facilitators” - neutral mediators that try to reach agreement on specific topics of the treaty.

But Szyszko's experience as an environment minister (he held the post two times before) probably played a role as well.

Multiple sources confirmed that Luxembourg held a bilateral meeting with Poland to confirm it will stick to the EU line, as agreed at an EU ministerial meeting in September - a week before the Polish election.

Luxembourg holds the rotating EU presidency and together with climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, speaks on behalf of the EU in Paris.

In the bilateral, Poland said it understood it could not change the mandate that has been agreed by environment ministers in Brussels.

In fact, as one source pointed out, a global treaty is in Poland's interest.

Part of Poland's opposition to strict emissions reduction targets in Brussels stem from the concern it will lose its competitive edge with non-EU countries that don't have such strict targets.

For Poland, a level-playing field is crucial.

There is also an expectation that Poland is keeping its powder dry for after the Paris deal. Once the EU's commitments are cemented in the agreement, the battle will be how to divide the CO2 emisssion cuts among member states.

It’s the battle in Brussels where Polish sparks are more likely to fly.

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