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20th Jan 2021

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Poland will burn coal beyond 2050, says local politician

Poland will not have stopped burning coal for energy production by 2050, a senior local politician predicted in an interview with EUobserver.

Witold Stepien, 'marshal' (a Polish local government term for head) of the Lodz region from 2010 until last month, told EUobserver that while he thought Poland would have "considerably less coal" in its energy mix by 2050, it will not have completely phased it out.

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  • 'I don't think by 2050 we can eliminate the use of coal to zero,' said Witold Stepien. (Photo: EPP Group in the CoR)

"I don't think by 2050 we can eliminate the use of coal to zero," Stepien told this website through an interpreter. "We will need 10 to 15 years more."

Stepien is still a member of the Lodz regional assembly, affiliated with the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), and a member of the Committee of the Regions, a Brussels-based advisory institution.

But a coal phase-out date of somewhere around 2065 is not quite in line with what the European Commission has in mind.

The commission recently published a strategy for a carbon-neutral Europe by 2050.

EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete (also EPP) was adamant when speaking to press at the UN climate change conference in the Polish city Katowice, earlier this month.

"It is clear we are going to decarbonise the economy. Not only the Polish, all the European Union is going to be decarbonised," he said.

"What is pretty sure [is] that in 2050 coal will not be in the energy mix," he said.

Canete stressed that the EU should assure a "just transition" for the European regional economies dependent on coal.

Stepien agreed. "We need to talk to people. The most important is the social acceptance of the transformation process," he said.

"Every single person that works in the mine needs to be informed and shown the chances for the future that we create," Stepien added.

But the question is whether that transition can take place fast enough.

In Stepien's region, Lodz, there were more attractive jobs for people now working in coal mines, Stepien said.

But the situation was different for Silesia, the Polish region where the climate conference was held.

Not just because of economics, but also because coal is part of the region's identity.

"The problem in Silesia has a cultural dimension," said Stepien.

"It's based on many generations," he noted, adding that in Poland when people hear of Silesia, the first thing they think of is the coal mines.

"This is a process that will last for years. … I think it's a process of at least two generations," he said.

A coal phase-out of 2065 was "much more probable" than 2050, he added.

Despite political reluctance, moving away from coal can bring many benefits, supporters say.

That is because coal is not only bad for climate, but also for air quality.

Earlier this month the Health and Environment Alliance, a political pressure group, said that annually hard coal and lignite power plants caused some 5,830 premature deaths in Poland.

Currently, around 80 percent of Polish electricity is generated by burning coal.

The Committee of the Regions covered EUobserver's travel and accommodation costs to Poland, but had no editorial control over its coverage.

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