55% ― only without panic


EU climate policy is accelerating again. The European Commission has just proposed raising the target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions until 2030 to 55%. Poland has always opposed ambitious goals, but now a breakthrough seems possible―the end of coal is inevitable, we must take care of energy security, after coronavirus we need new investments, and reducing CO2 emissions is associated with improving air quality, which the government defines as a strategic challenge. By taking these measures now, in heat, electricity and transport, emissions can be reduced by over 40%. The remaining cuts will come from the new policies on industry and agriculture and the sharing of efforts between Member States.

Where are we now?

The political transformation  and the collapse of  entire  branches of industries  resulted in a sharp decrease of Poland’s greenhouse gas emissions before 1990. However, in 2018 emissions were only  13% lower than in 1990. This is the base year for the EU climate target, which is now 40%. Moreover, since 2005 (the year adopted for counting targets in the ETS and non-ETS areas), emissions have basically stagnated. In 2018 we emitted 412.5 Mt CO2 equivalent. We are the fifth largest emitter in the EU. And we are receding form the EU, where total emissions have fallen by more than 20% since 1990. In other EU countries the economic model is changing. In Poland, too, it also should because our competitive advantages―low labour costs and low electricity prices―are vanishing. The energy transformation in Poland can therefore be a driving force for development―expanding new, clean technologies and new jobs. It is a shame to admit, but we can take advantage of our technological delay and make a leap into the future right away.

What can be done?―flagship projects

The difficult discussion about emission reduction targets is causing resistance,  because climate policy is shown as a reason of the problems of mining, energy and the entire Polish economy. This approach leads to decision-making paralysis and marginalises us in international discussions. We are wasting a lot of national resources on misguided actions without a future. Meanwhile, challenges of modernising energy, heat, transport, industry and agriculture sectors are piling up year after year. At the same time, it is now that the European Union is putting resources on the table that can be used for transformation. So let us look at the discussion about reduction targets from the perspective of what has to be done in Poland  anyway. There are flagship projects to be implemented: diversify the energy mix, make heating clean, electrify transport, modernise industry and have environmentally friendly agriculture. We must carry them out not only because they will reduce CO2 emissions, but  because they will increase energy security (as we are running out of lignite and hard coal), improve air quality (as it is the worst in the EU), and because a new impulse for the economy is needed.

All this is already declared by the Polish Government.  That is why we propose  that the strategy of the Polish transformation towards climate neutrality should be based on the implementation of flagship projects (with particular emphasis on energy) which are inevitable anyway, but which will be cost-effective, while at the same time improving quality of life and maintaining jobs.

Flagship project: change of the electricity mix―reduction of emissions by 66.5%

Actions: replacement of lignite and hard coal by renewable sources and gas[1]

The power industry is responsible for nearly a third of Polish emissions, and its transformation is irreversible. The he end of lignite resources is already visible. There is a lack of money in energy companies for new pit mines, and opposition from local communities. Domestic hard coal is uncompetitive, and mining is on the verge of collapse. It is dragging power generation sector down. At the same time, renewable sources are becoming the cheapest way of generating energy, and we are managing increasingly well their intermittency. All this means that changes in the Polish energy sector is inevitable. That is why we believe that the planned change of the mix until 2030 will be completed. It means an almost total abandonment of lignite, a significant reduction of hard coal and their replacement with RES and partly with gas. This transformation is key to reducing emissions and is already happening―companies want to get rid of coal assets, and regions like Eastern Wielkopolska are planning to move away from lignite within a few years. Decarbonisation of the mix will allow  for the reduction of emissions by as much as two thirds compared to 1990.  

Flagship project: clean heat―reduction of emissions by 48.6%

Actions: phase-out of coal in households by 2030, reduction of its share in district heating, energy efficiency in buildings[2]

Heating in Poland urgently needs to be modernised. Heating systems are inefficient, and heat for consumers is and will continue to be increasingly expensive, not counting the external costs of smog, which is also detrimental to the quality of life in Poland. Today this sector is responsible for almost one fifth of national GHG emissions. Deep modernisation of district and individual heating is therefore necessary and inevitable. It must be based on two pillars: improving the energy efficiency of buildings and abandoning the use of solid fuels in households by 2030. We must replace coal with other sources of heat. This awareness is already there. In the last draft of Poland’s Energy Policy, the government declared a gradual phasing-out of coal by 2030. However, this is not enough and it is too slow, all the more so because this is precisely the area which is crucial for the quality of life in Poland and to which huge EU funds will flow as part of the EU’s renovation wave―a strategy for thermal modernisation and change in the area of buildings. Modernisation of heat supply will allow to almost halve CO2 emissions as compared to 1990.

Flagship project: electrification of transport―slowing down emissions growth

Actions: electrification of passenger and public transport

Transport in Poland is already responsible for over 15% of greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, emissions from transport have more than tripled over the last 30 years. The same trends can be seen in other countries. Therefore, without a strategy for this sector, it will not be possible to achieve EU objectives. So far, no road map for the decarbonisation of transport has appeared in Poland, but it is clear that the solution that enables large-scale decarbonisation is electrification. It is necessary to promote not only private electric vehicles, but also to strive to electrify public transport in cities. Here, Poland should use its economic potential and focus on electric buses. Changes in the transport sector must result from a series of measures which, only taken together, can have a significant impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to estimates by think tank Transport & Environment, Poland has a chance to reduce transport emissions by as much as 25-30 Mt CO2 equivalent[3].  Although this still means higher emissions compared to 1990 levels, it would also be a 46% reduction over a decade. These are very ambitious assumptions, but without changes in the transport sector, Poland has no chance of achieving sufficient emission reductions by 2030.

Is that enough?

The flagship projects we have proposed in electricity, heating and transport are already taking place and are inevitable. They will make it possible to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 by  40.7% compared to 1990. This is three times more at a three times faster rate than actual reductions in Poland since 1990. When discussing Poland's contribution to the new EU target, however, it must  be taken into account that:  

  1. Achieving the EU's new target for 2030, let alone climate neutrality by 2050, will mean a radical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors. This also applies to industry and agriculture, whose share in domestic emissions is similar, at around 8%. A conscious climate policy is needed in both areas, but is currently lacking. We therefore propose that flagship projects―innovative industry and environmentally neutral agriculture―be included in the climate transformation. It is time for a strategy for these sectors. If, in calculating our Polish contribution, we take into account the reduction path for industry already outlined in the national energy and climate plan, the reductions will already reach 49%. According to the NECP, however, we plan to increase emissions in agriculture over the next decade.
  2. The CO2 sink potential and the LULUCF sector, i.e. land use, land use change and forestry, are important for emission targets. In Poland, the priority in this area should be to slow down the trend of decreasing carbon absorption and storage by national forests. Let it be reminded that as late as 2015, the agricultural and LULUCF sectors were climate neutral.
  3. Although the EU target may be raised to 55%, due to the principle of a common but differentiated efforts, we estimate[4] that Poland should reduce its emissions in the range of 44%―51% by 2030.

Flagship projects are actions which are strategic for Poland from the perspective of energy security, modernisation and the new EU budget. Their implementation will allow to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 40% compared to 1990. Additional reductions will be achieved by implementing necessary changes in industry and agriculture. We propose that social and political consensus be built   around them.


Author: Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk PhD, Head of the Power Project, Forum Energii 

Date of publication: 18 September 2020 


[1] Forum Energii, Modernising the European lignite triangle, 2020.
[2] Forum Energii, Clean Heat 2030. Strategy for Heating, 2019.  
[3] Transport & Environment, Emission reduction strategies for the transport sector in Poland, 2018.
[4] The Forum Energii's own estimates.

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