Next year will be the third time COP takes place in Poland — this time in the city of Katowice. Remember the business-driven “Coal Summit” that coincided with COP19 and made international news from Beijing to Paris? It undermined Poland’s presidency and lead to Poland being labeled “Coaland.”
But the forthcoming Polish presidency is also a chance for the government to finally step up and help lead the transition and strengthen global climate action.
First, let’s make a few things clear for “Coaland”. COP is no space for coal organizations and coal lobbyists, as demonstrated by the backlash against the US’s pro-coal side event this week. Events promoting coal around paradoxical concepts such as “clean coal” or “zero waste coal” are, simply put, offensive and their aim is to distract attention from what’s most urgently needed across the globe, including in Poland: phase-out of fossil fuels. In Poland, more than 5800 people die prematurely every year due to air pollution from the country’s coal power plants, and the Polish government continues to play into the pocket of the coal sector. These facts are certainly known outside of just the COP bubble.
Moreover, the label “Coaland” represents only one face of Poland. The Polish coal sector is in fact more and more dependent on the imports of coal, especially from Russia. There is strong public resentment against coal and coal mining. Yet despite this, the steady decline of domestic coal, and a number of regions struggling to go beyond it, the Polish government ceaselessly promotes the corporate interests of the coal status quo rather than the just transition to renewables that the Polish people demand and deserve.
Secondly, there is absolutely no need to bring any special coal events to Katowice as the city is already surrounded by coal mines and power plants.
But ECO is not misled by the “Coaland” label either, as Katowice, like many local communities in Poland, is indeed trying to move beyond coal and undergo a transition to more sustainable energy sources. They do it despite the efforts by consecutive governments to subsidize the dirty and uneconomic business with public money.
Considering the Polish government’s efforts to block EU climate policies and to turn one of Europe’s key climate tools — the Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) — and the currently debated EU energy market reform into giant coal subsidy schemes, as well as its obstruction of the Doha amendment ratification, one might wonder whether a Polish COP is a good idea at all.
ECO believes that the Polish government has a choice here.
Of course, it is critical for Poland to ratify the Doha Amendment as soon as possible, unless it wants its presidency to look like a bad joke. In addition, ratifying the amendment will also help build trust by showing that developed countries are serious about their pre-2020 commitments. But the whole Doha thing is just too obvious, let’s not waste too much negotiation space on that. In fact, irrespective of Poland’s final decision on Doha, it is important that we see ambition being advanced in the climate negotiations from the very beginning of the Polish Presidency.
Polish COP success will also depend on the presidency ensuring that a strong Talanoa Dialogue is successfully run in partnership with Fiji. That partnership should focus on how to enhance the climate ambition via the strong and robust rules for Paris Agreement implementation. ECO expects Poland to take its responsibility towards the Talanoa Dialogue seriously and make sure it leads to enhanced climate ambition, including signals that countries will ramp up their NDCs by 2020.
There are many concerns about the Polish presidency. But there are also a few crucial steps the Polish government could take in order to make sure it brings back the country’s international reputation, rather than strengthens its shameful position as Europe’s number one climate laggard.