When I was a little girl in Poland, we’d spend Christmas at my great-grandmother’s home. We were surrounded by the golden fields and the rows of rich soil covered in snow as an icy wind chilled you to the bone. As it got colder, I remember my great grandmother walking to a room in the entry of the home to go add more coal into the furnace. I remember the smell of sulfur and the rustle of newspaper as I peered over the edge into this dark room filled with coal that was sunk underneath the house. Since those wintery days, my family got a gas-powered furnace, and that room no longer has soot on the walls. But much of Poland still does.
Currently, Europe’s most polluting power plant, which produces about 28 terawatt-hours of coal-powered electricity, is the Belchatow Power Plant in Poland. To comply with the EU’s goal for net-zero emissions by 2050, the plant must be shut down. Poland and Germany alone make up for 54 percent of all coal emissions from the EU. However, things are not as bleak as they seem. Poland recently announced plans to shut the power plant down by 2036 as a part of the Lodz region’s application for the EU’s Just Transition Fund. A program that helps individual areas with the cost of transitioning towards a climate-neutral economy.
These plans were only officially announced after heavy deliberation of opening an open-pit lignite coal mine to supply coal to the power plant. However, after it was concluded that this would be a non-economical project, alongside EU regulations that are beginning to loom over the coal-reliant country, the ultimate decision to close the plant was made. Chief Executive Wojciech Dabrowski has hope regarding the progress, saying that “[the plans] are also symbolic because the success of this project will largely determine the success of the Polish energy transformation.”
Furthermore, the country also announced its commitment to phase out coal production by 2049. With Poland currently relying on coal for over 70 percent of its own energy needs, this is a significant step forward for the country and the rest of the world. After a subsidy program was agreed upon by coal production unions and the government, the plan outlined that by 2040 the country would only depend on coal for 11% of its energy. The transition would see Poland with a minimum of 23% of energy production from renewable sources by 2030.
Although this is a large step for Poland, and the country has been instrumental in previous climate action with the role they took in the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that proved to be central to the Paris Agreement, the government’s prioritization of green transport, and forest-focused carbon emissions reductions; environmentalists are still worried that the phase-out will be too late. Today, 33 out of 50 of the EU cities with the worst air quality are in Poland. With over a 60 percent increase in transport-related emissions over the last two decades, the Eastern European country is expected to miss reduction goals made by the EU.
The coal-exit strategy announced by Poland is a huge step. With four of the largest power plants in Europe located in Poland, this will hopefully cause momentum that will also inspire change in other countries. With 46 percent of global carbon emissions resulting from coal production, it is imperative to phase out the coal industry. Every country counts when we are all hoping to continue calling this beautiful planet home.
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Photo: Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash