It is only by putting citizens and justice first that we can make the European Green Deal stand the test of time and avoid a multi-speed Europe. Energy transition offers an opportunity for EU member states to develop and exploit their full economic potential.
Central European states are determined to reduce emissions and modernise their economies in a sustainable way. However, the region still has a long way to go as its starting position was totally different compared to the rest of the EU. The situation we inherited at the end of the 1980s was much bleaker than that in the countries outside the USSR’s sphere of influence.
Thanks to heavy investment by economic operators and social sacrifices we have been able to make great headway since the downfall of communism. Economic growth made it possible to reindustrialise the country and adapt our energy and industry sectors to the ever more stringent environmental standards put in place in the EU. A good case in point is the emissions reduction that took place in Poland following the signature of the Kyoto Protocol. Whilst our required target was 6 per cent, we managed reduced emissions by over 30 per cent at the time when our GDP have more than doubled. In that, Poland was helped by the fact that it joined the EU and adopted Community legislation including the 3×20 climate and energy package.
Climate neutrality, a goal we gradually try to achieve, represents an unprecedented challenge. Energy, transport, industry, agriculture, waste management – we are in for a Copernican revolution!
We entered the period of transition with our energy balance dependent on practically one resource: coal. In spite of such difficult beginnings, Poland has maintained emission reduction at the level present in other member states: its use of coal in electric energy production has fallen by 19 per cent over the last 30 years. The developing Polish economy prioritises alternative energy sources. In 2030, the share of coal in electricity production will not exceed 56 per cent. According to the document “Polish Energy Policy until 2040”, the share of renewable energy sources should reach at least 23 per cent in final energy consumption and at least 32 per cent in power engineering.
Further progress will not be easy and will require a lot of effort and support from the EU. This is because the obstacles to energy transition in Europe are no longer purely technological in nature. Today, they stem from complex social, economic and political problems. Climate neutrality requires specific actions and investments. We need a plan for achieving this goal just like we need support that would allow each member state to complete the process of transition successfully. In Poland, expenditure on the energy and climate strategy is estimated to grow to about €195 million in the following 10 years only.
At the time of crisis sparked by the global pandemic, it is also crucially important to allow for transition flexibility. This will help member states achieve common objectives, while protecting their citizens and those sectors of the economy that were hit particularly hard by the crisis. Hence, we must have access to all available technologies—i.e. nuclear, solar, wind and hydrogen energy—so that, in 20 years’ time, we can develop a system of clean energy generation whose capacity would be comparable to current production levels.
I am aware that Community funds that are planned to be set aside for climate-related policies are huge. If we want to ensure that these tools are effective and do not lead to a multi-speed Europe, they must be tailored to the needs of different societies. Whatever we do must be founded on flexibility and solidarity with people and the idea of a just structural change at the heart of our work. The groups that are most vulnerable to the negative consequences of transition should receive special support. For instance, the number of FTEs related to the Polish coal mining sector amounts to 200,000.
We showed an example of such thinking already in 2018 in Katowice during the COP24 climate summit which I chaired. 55 countries from all over the world, including most EU member states, signed a declaration where they said that, if we want people to accept and be confident about on-going changes, we must take account of the social aspect of transition in our pursuit of a low-carbon economy. Thanks to our efforts, the issue of just transition now features in all discussions about climate-related policies.
Text published simultaneously with the Polish monthly opinion magazine Wszystko Co Najważniejsze and Polish Institute of National Remembrance.