COP24: Climate conference in the heart of Poland's coal country

There's a certain irony that when world leaders meet in early December at the COP24 global climate conferenc...

Posted: Dec 14, 2018 2:17 PM
Updated: Dec 14, 2018 2:17 PM

There's a certain irony that when world leaders meet in early December at the COP24 global climate conference, they will be doing so in the heart of Poland's coal country.

The host city of Katowice is in the center of Silesia, a region that is home to about 90,000 coal workers -- around half of all the coal workers in the EU.

Air pollution

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Climate change

Coal industry

Continents and regions

Eastern Europe

Electric power industry

Emissions

Energy and environment

Energy and utilities

Environment and natural resources

Environmental regulation and policy

Europe

European Union

Government organizations - Intl

Greenhouse gases

Poland

Pollution

Utilities industry

Coal is hugely important for Poland. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki recently referred to it as "our black gold."

The country is the biggest producer of hard coal in the EU and coal power provides about 80% of Poland's electricity compared to an average of 30% among International Energy Agency member countries.

But coal accounts for almost half of global energy-related CO2 emissions, and like other coal-dependent countries, Poland is trying to adapt to a world that needs to cut emissions to slow global warming.

Read: The past four years have been the hottest on record, and we are seeing the effects

The EU has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% percent compared to 1990 levels by 2030, and last week unveiled a plan to be net zero by 2050. Poland's CO2 emissions per capita are slightly above the EU average, but its emissions per GDP are third-highest in the EU.

But there are signs that is changing.

Marek Wąsiński, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, a government-funded think tank, told CNN: "Like other EU countries, Poland is also moving away from coal. It's not a revolution, it's a slow evolution of the energy sector."

Although it makes up less than 10% of its energy mix, Poland has around 6,000 megawatts of wind power capacity, putting it among the leading nations in the EU.

Construction of the Baltic Pipe Project is set to start in 2020, which will supply natural gas from Norway to Poland. Natural gas produces much less CO2 than coal when it's burned for energy, but methane leakage can limit its climate benefits.

Read: Planet has until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change, experts warn

The Ministry of Energy's draft energy policy, published last week, said that by 2030, 60% of power will come from coal. It expects to have up to 9,000 MW of nuclear power by 2043, and 30,000 MW of off-shore wind and solar power by 2040.

Coal legacy

Michał Kurtyka, COP 24 President and Secretary of State in the Ministry of Environment, told CNN that Poland inherited a legacy of coal from its decades in the Eastern Bloc -- which ended in 1989 -- but had since managed to successfully transition its economy.

"In 1990 the Polish energy mix was 96% coal," he said. "There was a very high share of employment in coal and very big industrial production, the result of this communist conviction that only through industrialization could the Soviet Bloc compete with Western economies.

"When we entered into the transformation phase, this idea of transition of employment and changing industrial structure in many industrial regions, but starting with Silesia, was a very big challenge, but it's working very well right now.

"Katowice is an example of the transformation. It's a green city, 40% of the city is covered with parks, and quite a substantial part of production and employment is going to IT, business centers, value-added services, and new industries."

But the move away from coal isn't happening fast enough for some environmental groups.

Client Earth is a charity that uses legal avenues to protect the environment.

"The government targets are not in line with the Paris Agreement," Client Earth's Ilona Jędrasik told CNN. "To have so much electricity still come from coal by 2040 is impossible from an economic point of view. By then renewables will be way cheaper than coal -- keeping coal at that point makes no sense."

Read: Donald Trump buried a climate change report because 'I don't believe it'

Economics is another argument against Polish coal.

Rapidly rising carbon prices in the EU are making coal power increasingly expensive. Poland's coal sector struggles to make a profit and many power plants are nearing the end of their lifespans.

Last month, Client Earth launched a lawsuit against the construction of the long-proposed 1,000 MW Ostrołęka C coal power station in northern Poland -- a joint venture between power companies Enea and Energa.

But it didn't bring the lawsuit on environmental grounds; instead, as a minority shareholder in Enea, Client Earth argues that the power company has failed to manage material climate-related financial risk associated with the project.

"We are arguing that it's not economically profitable because of the rising prices of CO2 emissions, and there is a legal risk of this kind of investment also when it comes to climate policy and climate regulations at an EU level," said Jędrasik.

Enea and Energa didn't respond to repeated requests from CNN to comment, but Energa President Arkadiusz Siwko said in July that the power plant "contributes to the process of modernizing national power sector ... and, what is important, will be fired with Polish coal." He added that it would provide "a satisfactory rate of return for our shareholders."

The mayor of Ostrołęka said the power plant would provide jobs for the city.

'Just transition'

It's with an eye on the 90,000 Polish jobs in the coal sector that the Polish government has drafted the Silesia Declaration on Solidarity and Just Transition, which heads of state will be asked to adopt at the opening of COP24.

The declaration "is dedicated to ensuring a fair and solidarity-based transformation that will help to protect the climate while maintaining economic development and jobs."

Kurtyka says Poland must look for opportunities to create jobs at the same time as tackling climate change.

"There are technologies that provide not only environment and climate benefits but also social and industrial benefits," he said. "For example there's a growing industry in Poland around electro mobility and batteries, especially in Silesia.

"The message is that we want to operate this transition together with people and not against them."

West Lafayette
Overcast
71° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 71°
Kokomo
Broken Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 71°
Rensselaer
Broken Clouds
68° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 68°
Fowler
Broken Clouds
68° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 68°
Williamsport
Overcast
71° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 71°
Crawfordsville
Broken Clouds
69° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 69°
Frankfort
Overcast
74° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 74°
Delphi
Broken Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 71°
Monticello
Broken Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 71°
Logansport
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 72°
Dry and Cooler Weather.
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 68433

Reported Deaths: 2980
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion14863719
Lake7101271
Elkhart459777
Allen3635158
St. Joseph315479
Hamilton2513104
Cass17519
Hendricks1750105
Vanderburgh172612
Johnson1652118
Porter119539
Tippecanoe110311
Clark108145
Madison84765
LaPorte83829
Kosciusko81912
Howard81065
Bartholomew74347
Marshall74222
Floyd69444
Monroe68630
Delaware63852
Noble63728
Boone63546
Dubois62612
Hancock62337
Jackson5524
LaGrange54210
Warrick51630
Shelby51126
Grant49629
Vigo47410
Dearborn46528
Morgan42532
Henry36118
Clinton3573
White34710
Montgomery34321
Lawrence32827
Wayne3179
Decatur31432
Harrison29422
Miami2582
Scott25010
Daviess24619
Greene23934
Franklin22410
DeKalb2224
Putnam2228
Jennings21012
Jasper2082
Gibson2004
Steuben2003
Ripley1887
Perry17212
Starke1657
Orange16424
Wabash1613
Posey1580
Fayette1557
Jefferson1492
Whitley1486
Fulton1462
Carroll1452
Wells1342
Knox1310
Huntington1183
Washington1161
Spencer1143
Newton11010
Tipton1075
Randolph1034
Clay975
Jay820
Adams812
Rush794
Owen781
Sullivan761
Pulaski721
Brown701
Fountain632
Benton600
Blackford532
Ohio514
Pike460
Parke451
Switzerland430
Crawford420
Martin420
Vermillion380
Union320
Warren191
Unassigned0200

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events