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Coal Obsessed Host Poland Puts Developing World in a Tight Spot at Climate Summit

The ‘black gold’ - as coal is known in Polish society – was conspicuously present in the corridors of conference venue filled in large containers and President Andrez Duda went around meeting several leaders, wearing a jacket modelled on miners’ uniform.

Hridayesh Joshi |

Updated:December 6, 2018, 4:58 PM IST
Coal Obsessed Host Poland Puts Developing World in a Tight Spot at Climate Summit
Climate change protesters demonstrate, prior to the United Nations climate change conference in Poland, in central London, Britain, December 1, 2018. REUTERS

Poland: Tens of thousands of activists marched this week in London, Berlin and Brussels to send a strong message to the climate summit at Katowice to drastically cut emissions from the fossil fuels and save lives from the simmering catastrophe.

The unabashed Polish host of the summit, however, used nuanced metaphors to showcase the importance of coal in its economy and social structure.

The ‘black gold’ - as coal is known in Polish society – was conspicuously present in the corridors of conference venue filled in large containers and President Andrez Duda went around meeting several leaders, including UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, wearing a jacket modelled on miners’ uniform.

The Polish president also made statement in the opening plenary saying coal isn’t in conflict with climate goal set by the Paris Agreement. He also assured his coal miners in Brzeszcze on Tuesday that he will defend their “interests” and will not allow anyone to “murder” the Polish mining.

These developments and the statements by President Andrez Duda have come at a time when a climate research released this Wednesday projected that carbon emissions are set to hit an all-time high in 2018. The report by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Global Carbon Project says that the projected rise of more than 2 per cent has been driven by a solid growth in coal use for the second year in a row, and sustained growth in oil and gas use.

These developments have caused a deep concern among developing and poor nations who are facing the worst of climate change impacts. The main agenda of this UN Climate Summit (COP-24) underway in Poland is to finalise a robust “Paris rulebook” to implement the agreement, reached after years of negotiations. This rulebook will operationalise the Paris deal to fight the climate change. Under the Paris deal signed in 2015, all nations have pledged to take steps to fight global warming and keep the rise in earth’s temperature well below 2ºC.

“The negotiations being hosted in Poland, we have coal-obsessed country in the driver’s seat,” warned Harjeet Singh, Global Lead on Climate Change at ActionAid International.

Poland, who is presiding over this year’s climate summit, is seen as a “laggard” and “blocker” in the climate negotiations.

"The statement made by the Polish president at the climate summit undermines the stark warning received from the world’s topmost scientific body on climate change. The world stares at an existential crisis and we have only 12 years to bend the curve of growing carbon emissions," adds Singh, pointing towards the recently released Special Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Today 80 % of its electricity comes from the coal fired power plants and the country shows no urgency to switch to a clean energy pathway. Even in the best scenario Poland’s 50% of energy will come from coal and it will have at least 30% to 35% of its energy generation by coal even in 2040.

The climate talks are being held in the EU’s back yard, so the negotiators, from developing and poor countries feel that EU bloc must play an influential role to make the Paris Agreement real. At the venue, protestors from developing and poor world are exhorting the rich and developed nations to act fast save the earth from global warming.

Holding the placards and banner with slogan like “End Coal and All Dirty Energy” and “Stop Financing Fossil Fuel” protestors appeal the developed world to honour the Paris deal and respect the existence of poor and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) who are facing the existential threat due to climate change impacts.

poland climate change

As Poland shows a sluggish approach, other EU countries and rich nations conveniently hide behind United States (US), that has already pulled out of Paris deal but continues to “derail the negotiations” colluding with Canada, Australia, Japan and Russia. In such a scenario, the role of host Poland as the chair could be critical to set the tone of outcome.

The experts, however, say that the power and economic structure of Poland around coal mining and coal power plants and pressure from strong mining unions can undermine the whole objective and Poland may fail to take lead and seize a great moment in history.

Though in last 30 years the coal production of Poland has fallen by more than 50% yet the energy basket is still dominated by coal. With Germany, Poland accounts for more than 50% of carbon emissions of Europe. Out of 50 most polluted cities of EU countries 36 are in Poland. Still, it isn’t showing urgency to transition to clean energy.

In an important development Poland signed the declaration of “Just Transition” with at least 50 countries on the first day of conference. This declaration promises that workers employed in polluting fuel industry won’t be treated unfairly while making transition to clean energy. Poland said signing of Ministerial Declaration brings “significant benefits” and “vital interests of governments, workers and employers around the world will gain valuable support.”

India has also advocated at world stage for the rights of its 300 million humanity living below the poverty line. Government has made it clear several times that making transition to clean energy from coal or any other fossil fuel, India would also like to safeguard the interests of poor population which hasn’t got the access to electricity and the workforce employed in the sector.

Many observers and experts feel that “Just Transition” declaration can be used to delay climate action and camouflage the inaction. While advocating strongly the idea behind “Just Transition” the former head of Former UN Climate Chief, Christiana Figueres also admitted it can be used as a “pretext” to delay climate action.

Nambi Appadurai, Director of the Climate Resilience Practice, WRI India while underlining the “irony” of the COP24 being organised in Poland says it is important to “take the bull by its horns.”

“I think the proposition that came from Polish presidency on 'just transition' is a great move. But a lot depends on how the country internalizes this notion and shows that it truly means business and becomes an example to the world,” adds Appadurai.

(This story is the second in News18’s four-part series on the UN climate summit in Poland.)

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