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Poland pledges bold move away from coal

Poland wants to reduce coal’s share in the country’s energy mix to 37-56% in 2030 from the current figure of over 70%, the climate ministry said in the updated energy policy plan on September 8.

Poland’s economy is among the most emissions-intensive in Europe. That has long put Warsaw at loggerheads with the ever-bolder climate policies of the European Union, which envisages that the 27-nation bloc will become carbon-neutral by 2050.

While Poland officially opposes the carbon neutrality deadline, the growing costs of carbon dioxide emissions are now pushing Warsaw to consider reducing coal’s dominance in the energy mix.

Coal’s share in electricity production will diminish further to 11-28% in 2040, depending on the cost trajectory of carbon dioxide emission permits, the ministry’s plan assumes.

Coal will be replaced by renewable energy and – from the early 2030s – nuclear power, Climate Minister Michal Kurtyka said, presenting the plan. The strategy assumes development of 8-11 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power by 2040 as well as 6-9 GW of nuclear power.

Transitioning away from coal will be a political minefield. Poland’s mining sector employs some 80,000 people while its unions are politically strong and have derailed or delayed changes before.

Poland hopes to ease the transformation by throwing PLN60bn (€13.47bn) at the mining regions for the so-called "just transition" or a shift from dependency on coal to a cleaner economy that will not collapse coal regions’ labour markets. The bulk of the money will come from the EU coffers.

Developing renewables and nuclear power could create 300,000 new jobs in Poland, the ministry said in the plan.

Environmental and climate organisations criticised the plan for not making clear when Poland would wean itself off coal altogether. There also are doubts regarding the plan’s alignment with the expected hiking of the EU’s emission reduction ambitions, to be announced next week.

The European Commission is expected to moot raising the carbon dioxide emissions reduction target for 2030 from the current 40% to at least 55%.