Jan Cienski in Warsaw -
Ewa Kopacz, Poland’s new prime minister, may be projecting an image of a maternal paediatrician to voters at home, but EU negotiators in Brussels are expecting an altogether tougher persona when the Polish delegation shows up for climate talks this week.
Poland is the leading foe of the proposed deal, under which CO2 emissions would be cut by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990s levels. As well, 27% of electricity is to be generated from renewable sources by then, and EU members are supposed to use 30% less energy compared to 1990.
But Poland, which relies on coal to generate almost 90% of its electricity, has been building a regional bloc to either shift the targets or to ensure that the post-communist countries of central Europe get help in dealing with the costs of cuts.
If they do not get their way, the Poles have been clear that they may use their veto.
“If these conditions are not fulfilled and, even though this will be my first summit, I will have to act fairly radically,” Kopacz said recently.
Rafal Trzaskowski, the genial deputy foreign minister in charge of European affairs, notes that Poland’s energy costs could rise by 80% under the ambitious climate agreement.
Kopacz is under enormous domestic pressure to bring home a good deal. She faces her first electoral test next month during regional elections and is trying to stamp her authority on her centrist Civic Platform party before next year’s parliamentary elections. She has staked her reputation on a policy built around domestic and foreign policy safety, something which a steep increase in power prices would undermine.
The opposition is also underlining that it wants a deal good for Polish consumers and business. “Polish business must come first,” said Law and Justice spokesman PiS spokesman Adam Hofman.
But Poland is facing strong pressure from the rest of the EU to fall into line; 22 of the EU’s 28 states are on board with the 2030 goals. The climate change package is an important priority for Germany, Poland’s closest trading and political partner. France also wants to see progress as it hosts the final round of global climate talks in Paris next year.
In the past, Poland often stood alone in the EU in blocking ambitious climate change, but this time it is trying to find allies. Warsaw has built up a group called Visegrad+, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. In a recently agreed common statement, the countries declared, “the introduction of any legally binding renewable energy and energy efficiency targets at EU or national level is not desirable".
The central Europeans want richer western Europe to shoulder more of the costs associated with greenhouse gas reductions, arguing that they are still poor and trying to catch up with the western half of the continent.
But the alliance is showing signs of fraying under growing pressure from western Europe. The Czechs are indicating that they might agree to the three 2030 goals, while Croatia did not sign the common statement, notes Carbon Brief, a specialist newsletter.
That leaves Poland as the most significant potential obstacle to an agreement this week.
The climate package “is unacceptable to us in this format",” Grzegorz Schetyna, the foreign minister, told reporters, adding that Poland will work to ensure the country will not face higher energy prices as a result. “We have been talking about a veto over the last weeks and days. But I hope that this is a last resort and that the veto won’t have to be used.”
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