About a Short-Sighted Polish Government

Recently the EU planned to commit to new greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals – 20% (compared with 1990) in 2020, 30% in 2030, 60% in 2040, 80-95% in 2050. Out of the 27 member states, only one refused to support this initiative – it was Poland. Its government argued that the goals cannot be possibly reached in a country where 95% of power generation comes from coal power stations. Furthermore, another argument was that EU-wide commitments are futile as long as the big polluters – United States, China, India etc. – don’t make binding commitments as well. However, in both cases the Polish government seems to have overlooked important issues.

With reagard to the first argument, i.e. Poland’s dependence on coal – it is true that by now almost all electricity in the country is generated by burning coal. However, this need not remain so. Polish coal power stations are terribly old (so is its power grid, too). Whatever the particular strategy, Poland has to fundamentally restructure its whole power generation system – otherwise it will break down sooner or later. So, whereas there are hardly any renewables in the electricity mix now – if not now, then when should the country make the switch? It will have to replace most of its power stations, along with large parts of the grid, either. This means that Poland has a unique opportunity to consciously transform its power generation system from fossil fuels to emission-less technologies. Committing to do so within an EU-wide plan would be an additional incentive to do it right.

What about the big polluters not taking part in any meaningful commitment effort? This is a tragedy, certainly. But in such lock-in situations more often than not there is a need for somebody to go ahead. China, the US, India and others have been complaining that internationally binding commitments would harm their (short-term) economic competitiveness. By going ahead, the EU would both have the possibility to show its good will as a major economic player and to provide examples of how the transition to a low-carbon economy can proceed without too much harm to the economy.

In the end, every government in the world must realize that while protecting the climate may bring some trouble in the short term, their refusal to do anything meaningful puts the whole globe (including themselves) at danger of an environmental and economic disaster. This is equally true for Poland, Germany, China and any other country in this world. The longer we wait and hide behind the short-sighted shield of “competitiveness”, the smaller are our chances to keep the climate system within a trajectory we can deal with.

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7 thoughts on “About a Short-Sighted Polish Government

  1. “the EU would both have the possibility to show its good will […..] and to provide examples of how the transition to a low-carbon economy can proceed without too much harm to the economy.”

    Personally I doubt both parts of your contention. Firstly, for years now Europe has been shifting “dirty” industries to a faraway places.
    Secondly, non – carbon economy ( if ever feasible) will harm economy, specifically if it is a non-service ie. industrial one. Just think about direct and indirect costs.

    Regards,

  2. Firstly, for years now Europe has been shifting “dirty” industries to a faraway places.

    Indeed, we did. Maybe the acknowledgement of this fact in climate negotiation could trigger China and others to join a legally binding framework. However, doing nothing is certainly not better than doing at least a bit (i.e., committing themselves).

    non – carbon economy ( if ever feasible) will harm economy

    There is no need for a non-carbon economy. You may be right that it is not feasible (now). But a “carbon economy” (i.e., continuing business-as-usual) will harm the economy with almost certainty, and likely much more deeply. The question should not be “Do we need a low-carbon economy or not?” (this question has been settled by climate science, including climate economics), but “How can we achieve a low-carbon economy without harming ourselves more than it is needed?” You can see it this way: we already have harmed ourselves/our economy, by emitting greenhouse gases for years after having learned that this is a bad idea. All we can (and should) do now is to try to avert as much of further harm as possible.

    There are numerous ways to accomplish the transition – investing heavily in R&D on low-carbon technologies, increasing energetic efficiency in all areas, deploying those technologies we already have etc. It needn’t be all achieved at once. But we have to start – better sooner than later.

  3. “There are numerous ways to accomplish the transition – investing heavily in R&D on low-carbon technologies, increasing energetic efficiency in all areas, ”

    It is all true, however, we never know what the end result of actions is going to be. A short exercise to illustrate the point. Have you seen Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey”. When it was released in 1968 one could say at the time, the humankind most likely would achieve similar goals by 2001. We wre getting to the Moon ( it happened next year). So while the film is a pure science fiction it was, in general perceived( also by me ) a sort of a picture of things to come. Now look at the film today and take a look around – many things have changed many have remained unchanged while others have regressed.
    Today’s focus is on carbon “pollution” and it is common to dismiss concerns, either technical or economic or even environmental as being of minor importance in the bigger picture’s context . Are we sure they are minor, and are we sure what the bigger picture is?

    Regards,

  4. I know the film and I understand exactly what you mean. Any forecast is problematic (I recently read a very good book – Future Shock by the futurologist Alvin Toffler, from 1970. While the problems/challenges he described were very relevant, his exact picture of the future (i.e., today’s) world was highly erroneous.).

    Are we sure they are minor, and are we sure what the bigger picture is?

    No, we are not. But since we do not know, we should take what seems most probable as the basis for our policies. And that is exactly what I am calling for.

    Let me ask you a question: what do you think we should do about climate change? So far you mainly have written what we in your opinion should not do. Now, let’s be constructive.

  5. Sorry for the delay in responding to your question. I think I have expressed my views on the subject several times. Obviously if I had a ready for use solution I would be the wealthiest man in the world – I am not and this sums it up. My objections are not agianst the solutions as such but the way they are presented. The picture which is being painted is amost like a fairy tale – once the “green” change takes place, the life will be even better than it is. Population at large will have to be clearly informed that new solutions will create new issues. Some of them are today obvious, like cost and environmental impact but more will come with the scale of application. This is a very important factor in such considerations – what might be fine in a domestic application would not pass the test in a mass usage. Our lives may have to change drastically as a result. Personally I do not have issue with that either , providing it is logical and solidly based in our knowledge and/or experience. One would not call me a “green” person as such , however, my family and myself try to lead a rational life, where there is a “sensible”(?) balance between our needs and the needs of the world around us.

    Regards,

  6. I don’t have the impression that the “fairy tale” picture, as you call it, is very popular. If it were, we could expect substantial progress in tackling climate change. So far, there is none.

    Perhaps you are right in pointing out that some (most?) “Greens” are trying to draw too optimistic a picture of the possibility to make a transition to a low-carbon economy. However, I would not say that I do, and we are mostly discussing my posts, not anybody else’s – I guess, this is sometimes a source of confusion on both sides.

    I have always been trying to emphasize that, indeed, the transition will likely be costly. (Although, on the other hand, there truly are co-benefits in phasing out fossil fuels, especially health-related ones.) In some sense, we have to make a choice between a (probably) harmful change and the (almost certainly) more harmful status quo.

  7. You asked me a question and I have tried to answer. My explanations should not be treated as a criticism of your blog and views expressed even if, from time to time, we disagree on specifics. Also, it always helps to know opposing views and reasoning behind them.

    Regards,

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