Thursday

2nd Jul 2020

Green Deal

Poland's climate neutrality pledge - delayed again?

  • Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki (right), at a pre-coronavirus summit. 'Lack of commitment from Poland is definitely a factor that weakens EU credibility on the international climate policy arena,' said climate expert Urszula Stefanowicz (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Last December, EU leaders reached agreement on achieving climate-neutrality by 2050 - but granted Poland an exemption, with a commitment that Warsaw return to the issue at the summit in June 2020.

However, the public health crisis and the economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus has postponed this discussion - and further complicated matters.

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"Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, discussions on climate issues have been postponed - but Poland continues to act to reach its climate objectives and modernise its energy system," Polish government sources told EUobserver on Thursday (18 June).

However, civil society organisations said that lack of commitment of one member state might pose a risk to the whole EU's credibility - especially in international discussions where the EU aims to lead global action.

"Lack of commitment from Poland is a factor that weakens EU credibility on the international climate policy arena," said Urszula Stefanowicz, a climate expert from the NGO Polish Ecological Club Mazovian Branch.

Moreover, the fact that the EU is still considering financing with taxpayers money fossil fuels is equally damaging for the EU credibility, according to most environmental activists.

Polish mine jobs

During the Covid-19 pandemic and related lockdown, the government closed mines, leaving many people without a job - which has now placed the Polish government in a tough situation ahead of the national elections.

Back then, some experts and politicians argued that the decision was taken too late to control the spread of the disease, while others said it was unnecessary entirely.

This is why Stefanowicz argues that Poland is unlikely to make any public declarations in this week's summit.

"For the government, it is not the time to say that Poland will have to speed up the process of closing mines as a result of accepting EU policies, which they had previously called overly-restrictive and dangerous for the Polish job market," she said.

"The only way to push the Polish government is through additional finance," she added.

Timmermans threat

The European Commission's proposal for the recovery increases five-fold the resources of the Just Transition Fund, which aims to support fossil fuel-dependent regions - bringing the total to €40bn.

Poland would receive the largest funding-slice of this money, and the country's coal-dependent regions could receive about €8bn, according to Poland's climate minister Michal Kurtyka.

However, the commissioner in charge of the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, warned last month that the allocation of EU funds might be anchored to certain criteria - such as the commitment to the Green Deal targets.

"If a country does not commit to the EU's 2030 or 2050 targets, there should be consequences for the allocations as well," he said.

According to Polish EU sources, Warsaw will contribute to achieving a climate-neutral EU by 2050, despite the lack of 'official commitment'.

"Poland is mobilising enormous investments to do it and at the same time is taking into consideration the needs of the most vulnerable social groups. That is why we do not see any need to implement any conditions to the Just Transition Fund," they said.

"A just transition cannot be based on conditionality but inclusiveness," they added

Meanwhile, informal talks linked to climate policy are already taking place - although the 2050 climate-neutrality target is not as relevant as increasing the target for 2030.

The mayors of Warsaw, Budapest, Prague and Bratislava recently called on the European Union to set a more ambitious emissions reduction target for 2030.

The heads of the four capitals sent a letter on Wednesday to the European Council president Charles Michel and EU leaders urging to boost the current 40 percent emission reduction target to 55 percent by 2030 (compared with 1990 levels).

"The joint crises of the coronavirus and global warming creates an unprecedented test of concerted action for the EU," reads the letter, which comes ahead of the EU summit on Friday (19 June) in which EU leaders will discuss the EU's recovery plan and long-term budget.

"We have great hopes and expectations for the recovery plans. However, these recovery measures must not lose sight of the escalating climate crisis, a challenge even greater than the coronavirus," the mayors added.

Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who is a member of Poland's biggest opposition party, Civic Platform, is running for the presidential election set for 28 June.

Later this year, the commission will present an impact assessment to increase the emission reduction target to at least 50 percent and towards 55 percent.

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