Wojciech Kość in Warsaw -
Poland’s Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz has been quick to assure Poles that the country got everything it wanted – and more – from the agreement over the European Union’s new climate strategy reached late on the first day of the EU energy summit in Brussels on October 23.
“There will not be additional burdens for Poland because of the new framework of the EU climate and energy policy,” Kopacz told reporters.
Kopacz arrived at the summit under pressure from both within the ruling centre-right coalition she heads as well as the opposition, amid claims that agreement to the EU’s 2030 climate goals would be disastrous to the Polish economy, particularly the energy sector.
Poland was also trying to lead a pack of CEE countries – Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, as well as Romania and Bulgaria – that demanded compensation were they to agree on the CO2 cut.
“Our calculations show that if we agreed to [these] ambitious climate targets, the price of energy would go up by 80%,” Poland’s minister of European affairs said before the summit. He also said the climate ambitions were at odds with the EU’s strategy of reindustrialisation.
The government, however, has been unable to back Trzaskowski’s claim with any analysis, while climate campaigners were quick to produce reports showing that the hike would be negligible, while adopting an ambitious climate policy could actually be beneficial to the Polish economy.
In the early hours of October 24, the EU leaders eventually agreed that the 2030 climate and energy targets would be a 40% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030, as measured against 1990 levels, a 27% share of renewables in the EU energy mix but without binding targets on member states, and a 27% increase in energy efficiency (again, an EU-wide target without obligations on member states).
Kopacz employed some strong rhetoric before the summit, when she threatened to veto the agreement if Poland didn’t receive any concessions to ease the pains of transition to a low-carbon economy.
After the summit, it became clear what concessions Poland (as well as other CEE member states) did receive, although there is no shortage of opinions over whether they did or did not water down Europe’s climate ambitions just 12 months before the UN climate conference in Paris when a global climate treaty is to be inked.
First of all, Poland’s coal-reliant energy sector, which generates close to 90% of electricity from hard or lignite coal, will continue to receive free emissions permits – 40% by 2030 - within the EU’s Emissions Trading System.
“It’s a guarantee that energy prices in Poland will not grow,” Kopacz said in Brussels. There is more to that, however, as the money that the Polish utilities will not spend on buying emissions permits will be the money they will be able to invest in modernisation of the power generation fleet, for example.
Under the current rules, the free permits were scheduled to be gradually phased out before 2020.
Another mechanism is the creation of a special fund that will also help finance energy investment for Poland and other CEE member states. Again, Poland is going to be biggest beneficiary, as it will receive 50% of the fund’s resources. In money terms, this will be PLN 7.5 billion (€1.77 billion) by 2030.
Investment is sorely needed in the Polish power generation industry that has to address an ageing fleet, climate regulations and a host of other EU environmental directives, of which the revised Large Combustion Plants directive is of most concern for the sector.
Some climate campaigners, who play an increasingly important role in shaping the general public’s view and putting pressure on the government, welcomed the summit’s result, albeit cautiously.
“It is now up to Prime Minister Kopacz to embrace yesterday’s decisions and make use of EU’s climate policy. She now has the chance to use income from the sale of allowances to improve the living standards of Poles through supporting them in developing micro renewable energy and modernising their homes,” says Tobiasz Adamczewski, climate and energy expert at WWF Poland.
“[Yesterday’s deal], although very much watered down, must be a game changer for Poland. Poland will have to change its stance on long-term coal-based development. The ship has sailed and there is no jumping off,” he adds.
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