Report from Poland's Coal-face

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Today's post is a guest blog by David Oldroyd who has lived in Poland for many years and who writes a regular Letter from Poland.  The third December 18 letter concerns the Polish backdrop to COP24.  Here it is:

From the Economist 13 December:

Why are so many Polish towns polluted?  The burning of coal at home is the main culprit.

WORLD LEADERS gathered in Katowice, south-western Poland, this week for the UN’s COP24 climate conference.  With decarbonisation on the agenda, Katowice, in the heart of coal-mining country, was a surprising choice of location.  The event’s sponsors include Europe’s largest coking coal company, and guests were greeted by a coal-miners’ band. The city of 300,000 inhabitants is among the most polluted in Europe. And in Poland it is far from alone. The country has 36 of Europe’s 50 most-polluted towns (in terms of particulate material (PM2.5) or fine dust), according to the World Health Organisation. Earlier this year, the EU Court of Justice ruled that Poland “persistently exceeded” limits to regulate the amount of pollutants in the air.

Coal is largely to blame. Poland gets around 80% of its electricity from the stuff, be it domestically produced or imported from Russia. On December 4th, when Poland celebrated Miners’ Day, President Andrzej Duda said he “will not allow anyone to murder Poland’s mining”. He had stated at the opening of COP24 that Poland’s use of coal “does not clash with climate protection”. The government, which is under pressure from the EU to cut carbon emissions, is aiming to get 60% of its energy from coal in 2030, supplemented by energy from wind farms and nuclear power.

Apart from missing a ‘0’ from the population (actually 3,029,000) of the conurbation around Katowice known as the Upper Silesian Metropolitan Area – USMA (Górnosląski Związek Metropolitalny), the Economist extract cannot be faulted. ... it comprises 14 conjoined urban areas. Our beloved Tychy is the southernmost.

In the heart of Katowice the famous ‘Saucer’ (Spodek) arena built in communist times is clearly to be seen and on the adjacent roundabout under which the motorway runs, is the Klub Królestwo, glass-covered structure from which the sun is reflected in which the Climate Hub was held and where I preached about Spaceship Earth; prospects to a small group of powerless fellow travellers. After Al Gore has made his presentation to the main conference delegates (with Karola interpreting for the Poles) he headed across to the Klub Królestwo to occupy the same small stage that I had trodden five days before, no doubt attracting a rather larger gathering of fringe supporters. I did not even get to know of his admirable visit to the dissident arena until after his event.

Beneath the surface of the Upper Silesian region lie thick coal seams to a depth to 1000 meters, an estimated 70 billion tons which offer good conditions for extraction. Above the ground live millions who have little information or concern about the dire trajectory of the impact of current economic systems whose growth impacts and disturbs the balance between our species and nature. The banner carried by Climate Justice Activists calls for “SYSTEM CHANGE NOT CLIMATE CHANGE”. Systems are led by powerful human agents who are not inclined to undo the systems that gifted them their popularity, power,wealth and status. This is not good news for Spaceship Earth and its species. “We are now in a world whose key leaders, especially the president of the United States, remain wilfully oblivious to its long-term problems. They put policies like deregulation, fake nationalist solutions, and profits for the already grotesquely wealthy ahead of the future lives of the mass of citizens.” - a comment from the independent media.

And extracted from today’s BBC

"… There are 196 countries in the UN and 192 counties agree," said Mohamed Rasheed [President of Maldives] "We are just talking about four that do not agree, and these four are taking us hostage." For the more than 20,000 people attending these talks, the end can't come quickly enough. The expectation is that it will be Saturday afternoon at the earliest.  Some are worried that it could go into Sunday, but most delegates have flights to catch on that date so the pressure will be on to finish by then …

Poland holds the COP presidency but there is a lot of concern among delegates that they lack an overall picture of what should emerge from the meeting. Most people want to see a strong rulebook, a commitment by countries to raise their ambitions and carbon cutting promises before 2020 and some clarity on how much money will be delivered to poorer countries - as well as when it will arrive. While some negotiators say the Poles are doing a good job in difficult circumstances, many are critical, saying they are responding to the needs of the rich and not the poor.

When and where were the poor ever favoured ahead of the rich and powerful? But greenhouse gas from rich or poor will not differentiate as it warms “Hothouse Earth”.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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