Climate neutrality – Poland is in favour and even against | A talk about the results of the last European Council
What actually happened at the recent European Council? Poland supported the goal of climate neutrality or quite the contrary? What can be expected in the coming months? Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk and Joanna Maćkowiak-Pandera discuss the results of the European Council conclusions and its implications.
Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk, PhD (AGF): Joanna, what actually happened at the recent European Council? Poland adopted the goal of climate neutrality or vetoed it? There is no consensus even among experts.
Joanna Maćkowiak-Pandera, PhD (JMP): Poland agreed on climate neutrality in the EU by 2050, but not internally. Poland said "yes" and "no" at the same time. In fact, for domestic needs, Poland is postponing the decision—this time until June 2020—when the topic is to return at the meeting of heads of states and governments. It is important that this will be after the presidential elections in Poland.
The outcome of the European Council is interesting. One can get the impression that Poland has blocked something, but in practice, it put herself into brackets, a small and quite enigmatic ones. In fact, the European Commission has been given the green light for very ambitious actions in the European Green Deal.
AGF: Do you think it was a well-considered strategy to really gain something at the next European Council in June 2020? Will other Member States be more willing to negotiate? Or maybe less?
JMP: In my opinion, less. In June all the countries will be fighting for an EU budget that will lack money because of Brexit. If Poland does not show a concrete and credible plan for transformation and achieving the climate goals, not only in the perspective of 2050, but already 2030—no one will cry. And maybe even someone will be happy, hoping to receive more.
AGF: I don't quite agree with that. Indeed the patience of some in the EU is running out, but it's better—for the whole decision-making process and the image of the EU in the world—to haver Poland on board. Let's wait and see whether there's a good climate to talk about any compromises. In any case, maybe we can use this time to count transformation costs and send a clear message, what Poland expects? What do you think?
JMP: We have to take a chance, but as you know, it will be yet another try. Although the world is changing, the energy sector has problems, we are suffocating with smog, the next decision-makers get round with climate policy. Everybody knows that we have a lot of coal and therefore a problem with reducing emissions. At the same time we would agree on further targets, directives and regulations. Then we do nothing about it... Poland is the only country in the EU that will probably not meet any of the targets adopted for 2020. By doing so, we lose the credibility that is so important in the ongoing negotiations on the new budget. We cannot expect the huge truck with money to arrive in Warsaw, while nobody asks what we have already done and what we want to spend the money on.
AGF: Precisely, no doubt about it! There are probably some chances for Poland to present its postulates, but in fact, time is not on our side. After all, already in January the European Commission is to present detailed proposals concerning the Just Transition Fund. It seems that everyone wants to get the most of it. Do you think that Polish regions still have a chance to benefit the most?
JMP: The negotiations on the new EU budget will not be completed until the autumn of next year. It is known that the President of the European Commission intends to allocate much more funds to the broadly understood climate. She has announced creation of the Just Transition Fund. The Fund will be worth 100 billion euros. We cannot discuss fair transformation in Brussels and the development of mining in Silesia. If we do not show that we want to move away from coal in mining regions, nobody will prioritise us when distributing the funds. There are actually more and more willing to benefit from it. For example, the automotive industry will also be lining up in this queue, because transport must also decarbonise.
AGF: All right, but despite these ambiguities, the conclusions clearly state that the Commission can now review all EU legislation for compliance with the objective of climate neutrality. So what can we expect?
JMP: In practice, the adoption of the European Council conclusions gives the green light to the European Commission to work on a new, ambitious climate strategy. It is soon expected that the tough negotiations will start in all 50 actions presented in the European Green Deal, i.e. ETS and non-ETS, or increasing CO2 reduction target for 2030 to 50% or even 55%. Are we ready to actively participate in this process? I do not think so. In my opinion, the Polish administration lacks the human resources to handle all planned activities. Not only at the level of their implementation, but already at the stage of their negotiation.
AGF: So to sum it up it has to be said clearly—there are neither exceptions, nor some kind of opt-out, nor discount granted to Poland. Quite the opposite: specific legal instruments that decide on achieving climate neutrality, in fact already exist.
JMP: Exactly. And also, putting ourselves into brackets does not help gaining understanding and solidarity of other Member States. We have shown that our biggest problem is the lack of preparation of concrete measures, i.e. what is the Polish plan for the maximum reduction of emissions, how much we can do, what exactly, in what order and what resources we need for it.
To achieve this the Polish administration has to be well prepared and armed with reliable analyses, not political arguments that do not convince anyone, neither in Poland nor in Brussels.