On Monday, coal-dependent Poland continued its virtually solitary opposition to a widely-supported -- and badly needed -- short-term fix for Europe's carbon-trading system, the continent's flagship policy in the fight against global warming. Such obstreperousness, however, has not led to Poland's being internationally ostracized. On the contrary, even as the country helped block Europe's ability to present a unified front at the recent climate change conference in Doha, Poland was chosen to host the next conference in 2013.
It is a decision which seems destined to make next year's conference, aimed at fashioning a global pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, just as unsuccessful as in years past.
The pessimism is born of Poland's ongoing addiction to coal -- and of the government's own interest in the status quo. Recently, Tusk told a press conference that "energy is the key to politics." And in Poland, there is little difference between the two. Despite communism having crumbled almost two-and-a-half decades ago, much of the energy industry in Poland remains under government control. Though many of the largest energy companies have been ostensibly privatized, the Polish treasury often retains a significant stake.
"There is a vested interest in maintaining the current power system, so the renewable energy system is too dispersed to benefit the right players in the system," said Michael LaBelle, a professor at Central European University in Budapest who teaches energy policy. "They are coal-aholics, that's the best term to use, it's horrible but it's true."
Poland is the 10th largest consumer of coal in the world and produces 92 percent of its electricity from coal, according to the World Coal Association. And despite EU targets for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, Poland is pressing forward with plans replace old coal plants with massive new ones.
That doesn't mesh well with Europe's CO2 emissions reduction plans. As Europe's emissions trading system grows and becomes more comprehensive, carbon should get more expensive. But Poland has responded by both fighting against making fixes to the European Emissions Trading System (ETS) -- which has been crippled by chronically low prices for emissions certificates -- and against more ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions. Warsaw has also pushed to get extra pollution allowances for new and existing plants.
Instead of criticizing Poland for its decision to invest in new coal energy technology, Germans should look at what is happening in their own "green dreamworld":
EON SE, the worst-performing stock in Germany’s benchmark DAX index (DAX) for the first year since the company was formed in 2000, has ripped up earnings forecasts as a surfeit of electricity from wind turbines and solar panels makes its fleet of gas-fired plants unprofitable. In contrast, RWE AG (RWE) has gained 16 percent because EON’s closest rival has more cheap-to-run coal stations better able to compete with renewables.