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Why the climate COP in Poland might seem weird

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Poland will host COP24 in December this year. It will be the most important climate meeting since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. But  it might not be what you’d expect.

It’s like we invited the international community and spent millions of taxpayers’ zlotys just to say “look at how coal-dependent we are and how much we don’t care!”

It needs to be said first, that few countries are doing enough to prevent a 1.5℃ temperature rise. The intention of the US to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, Japan’s, Russia’s and New Zealand’s absence from the second commitment period – these are all occurrences which deserve the “blame and shame”.

It’s like we invited the international community and spent millions of taxpayers’ zlotys just to say “look at how coal-dependent we are and how much we don’t care!”

 

It also needs to be said that if global emissions were reduced between 1988 and 1990 by 25% (such as in Poland) and stayed that way (well below 30 Gt CO2eq/year, 1970 levels), the carbon budget would be much further away from being blown right now. 

But Poland’s emission reductions did not occur due to the implementation of international or domestic climate policy (the UNFCCC was adopted in 1992 and entered into force in 1994). It was a side-effect of the transition from an inefficient and energy-intensive planned economy to a competitive market economy. Other post-soviet bloc countries also benefited from this side-effect, but this was a regional specificity, which cannot be posited as an example to follow by other countries. 

“The very definition of an oxymoron”

However, scrutiny, along with possible finger pointing, come with the package when hosting the Conference of the Parties. And a whiff of climate denial sprinkled with self-promotion on a pedestal of moral righteousness will only make it worse. 

Reading  recent statements on the matter, it seems as though the Polish government’s official position on climate change is: We doubt whether climate change is man-made, but we’re leading in fighting it. The very definition of an oxymoron. 

And another one: We are the leader on climate mitigation, not Germany, so let’s stop talking about ambition. Weird, ain’t it? Especially when, according to the aforementioned source, instead of talking about the 1.5℃ temperature goal, we’re to tackle poverty eradication, combating hunger and security of energy supplies. As if they had nothing in common. 

Sure, the 1.5℃ temperature goal may seem out of reach. But there is a reason why so many countries pushed for its inclusion in the Paris Agreement. A 2℃ increase compared to 1.5℃ would mean almost doubling the probability of extreme heat occurrences, increased extreme precipitation probability and reduced yields in some crop production. 

What does this lead to? Increased poverty and hunger. At the same time, tackling the 1.5℃ target head on means an increase in energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment – the very essence of building energy security, especially when energy comes from distributed local sources. 

Different energy outlooks for Poland, Germany

Despite Poland’s large, 30% emission reduction from 1988 (Poland`s Kyoto Protocol base year), it is still missing the other 70% to reach climate neutrality – a term pushed by Polish negotiators to replace “decarbonisation”. Decarbonisation has been described by the current President as “heresy”. But neither semantics nor attempts to censor the ambition discussion will change the fact that Poland will need to let go of coal in the first half of this century. 

This is something the German government understands. And despite their own love affair with coal, and the inability to reach internal climate goals, it is target setting, followed by policymaking that has led to real change that cannot be denied. Since the entry into force of the Climate Convention in 1994, Germany has reduced its greenhouse gases by 22,9%, whilst Poland has done so by 13%. Germany’s massive investments in renewable energy lead to drastic cost reductions for new solar and wind capacity. This, in turn, led to the unprecedented growth of  global renewable energy capacity. In Poland, the cost of electricity from new onshore wind capacity is already competitive with that of new coal. Which is probably why new regulations were introduced to stop more investments into new onshore wind projects, to further increase the existing 6GW of capacity. 

Both Polish and German emission trends show a levelling-off since 2009. Unfortunately, both countries still have ongoing coal investments (German lignite and hard coal, Polish hard coal). However, the outlook from both is quite different. Germany has the Energiewende. Poland has a lot of climate nonsense! 

Climate nonsense

For quite a few years now a group of Polish academics have been running a climate-science website, the  main aim of which is to debunk myths about the source of the climate problem. Once a year they hold a climate nonsense of the year anti-award, where the most ridiculous quotes are put-up for public vote. 

In 2014, Zbigniew Ziobro, the current Minister of Justice, received the award for saying that carbon dioxide can’t be harmful, since we consume it in carbonated beverages. In 2015, the former Minister of Environment Jan Szyszko was awarded for his opinion, that carbon dioxide emitted in Poland is a gas of life for living nature systems, needed for them to prosper. Last year, the honor was given to Janusz Korwin-Mikke, an MEP, who considers that most scholars say that global warming, if it exists at all, has nothing to do with human activity. This year, the fourth edition of the plebiscite has been won by a publicist, Wojciech Cejrowski, for proliferating the volcano myth. However, the energy minister, Krzysztof Tchórzewski received second place, saying that Poland has the highest percentage of afforestation in Europe (which is false) and is the only country to have increased its share of forested area, whilst all other European countries have reduced it (also false), implying that afforestation is how Poland will reach climate neutrality. 

Among other nominees are Andrzej Piotrowski, the deputy energy minister responsible for development (or maybe hindrance) of renewable energy and Mariusz Orion Jędrysek, the deputy minister of environment, who stated that there is a lack of definitive physical correlation between greenhouse gas concentrations and global temperature change. 

With people in power who don’t believe that climate change is man-made, and who are politically dependent on the coal sector, we can’t expect public servants to gracefully embrace the 1.5℃ discussion. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that the only reason for bringing COP24 to Poland was to obstruct the ambition discussion altogether – an objective hard-wired into the Paris Agreement. Which is exactly why we have to make the Katowice COP all about the implementation of the Agreement – but from a climate perspective.  

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 Tobiasz Adamczewski is Conservation Director for WWF-Poland. He is based in Warsaw. tadamczewski@wwf.pl

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