Polish right-wing politics: a devil of decarbonization

On August 6, the new Polish president – Andrzej Duda, from the right-wing and anti European Law and Justice Party (PiS) – will be sworn into office. And if the current political winds do not change, we can expect a substantial shift in the Polish parliament after the general elections in the fall, warns Michał Olszewski. Current polls suggest that the PiS will gain a significant margin. Pessimists warn that we should be prepared for a “Hungarian scenario”.


Coal’s long shadow: Polish national-conservatives could take European climate politics hostage. (Photo by WW, CC BY-SA 2.0)

This will have severe consequences for Polish environmental policy. The first red flag came from Krzysztof Szczerski, one of the closest advisers to the new president and responsible for foreign policy. Shortly after winning the presidential election, Szczerski revealed a number of conditions for its partnership with Germany. Among them this: “Finally, Berlin must recognize that Polish coal mining industry will not be jeopardized by the European Union’s energy and climate policy. Of course we are not supporters of poisoning our air. Both the president-elect and I come from Krakow. We want to reform our energy system, and we will do it. But we do not accept a dictate that stops the development of our country and tells us to close all our coal industries”(“Rzeczpospolita” of June 14, 2015).

This statement is not out of the ordinary. This is part of a consistent and coherent policy narrative that has been shaped by PiS for the past years. The party sees the EU climate and energy goals as misguided and harmful for Polish industry. In fact, since 2008, when Poland signed the first energy and climate law, PiS has fiercely criticized any EU climate and energy decisions. During the negotiations on the EU 2030 goals, they called on Polish authorities to veto it.

Why does the PiS believe that European energy policy should be constructed in such a way as to enable Poland to continue its coal mining? Who is preventing Poland from developing its mining industry? I recall that in 2008, Poland successfully negotiated a European support package for the Polish energy sector. Poland received free permits to emit carbon dioxide. The package was supposed to help modernize the Polish energy sector, but was essentially used to support coal power plants. Similarly, during the 2030 goal negotiations, Poland, among others, managed to negotiate that CO2 emissions permits for the power sector would continue to be made available for free. So the main reasons for the troubles of the Polish coal sector are not EU regulations. Instead, the Polish coal industry has suffered immensely from the state of the world coal market (i.e. very low prices of good quality raw material) and international competition in particular. For the PiS, however, the matter is clear: the main cause of problems to the Polish coal industry is the notion of decarbonisation. It’s a very convenient approach to the problem and one of the reasons why the party is supported by the powerful mining unions. So the easiest way for the PiS is to deal with the issue is to find an enemy outside Poland and point a finger at EU officials. It is more difficult to admit that there are a number of other factors responsible for Polish mining crisis, including domestic and international ones, independent of EU policy.

Yet another energy detail: the PiS is not interested in developing a “prosumer” movement of small and decentralized power producers. Instead the energy program of the party is based on maintaining a traditional large-scale power scheme, based mainly on coal and large state-owned utilities. Windmills and solar panels are seen as a German invention that is incompatible with the Polish energy vision.

What would Polish-German negotiations on the coal issue look like? I have no idea. Germany plays a key role in negotiations of European climate policy, but all decisions are finally made by EU member states. The 2030 goals have been agreed upon, and there is no way to imagine that the Germans or anyone else for that matter would want to renegotiate them. However, it is clear that the PiS will want to request a special status for the Polish coal industry. Perhaps they see Poland as a carbon island on the map of a largely decarbonized Europe?

Michał Olszewski (born 1977) – journalist, reporter, writer. For more than twelve years he worked for Gazeta Wyborcza and Tygodnik Powszechny, where he concentrated mostly on environmental issues. He is engaged in a Krakow-based campaign against air pollution.


Michał Olszewski (born 1977) – journalist, reporter, writer. For more than twelve years he worked for Gazeta Wyborcza and Tygodnik Powszechny, where he concentrated mostly on environmental issues. He is engaged in a Krakow-based campaign against air pollution.


  1. heinbloed says

    It is sad to see the Polish political system failing so badly.
    The Mafia has a full grip on media and public offices, the lack of 2 or three generations from democratic experience allows for this.

    The Polish coal is lost the one way or the other, the European Energyunion (a Polish plan to allow for more coal subsidies) works out in a total different way than formerly anticipated by Tusk.

    The mines are lost and the power sector to be followed:


    Cheaper and greener power makes it now into Poland:


    Poland isn’t lost, however, as long as people come together and work in the spirit of communal benefit there are chances. That Krakow banned the coal was very important I think, it gives hope to many other cities.
    Despite all the countermeasures against REs new wind parks are being developed, CHP is employed. Step for step and little by little.

  2. Paul says

    Maybe people in Poland have noticed that electricity is twice as expensive in Germany as it is in their country, and said “Energiewende? Nein danke”.

  3. heinbloed says

    Take it with humor, coal power plants can have a second live in the third world:


    50 years ago pedal driven sewing machines were exported to Africa, second hand ones, donated from the first world.
    Now the very same organisations send second hand clothes. But Zimbabwe has banned these, health and economic recovery is important …


  4. heinbloed says

    € 330.-/MWh peak now in Poland


    Ikea can’t afford this, well, PV is sooooo expensive, we know ….:)


    1,400 Zlotys per MWh. At 1,500 Zlotys the power exchange goes into ‘commy status’ (I just invented the term, it is protected. Well, gimmy a kW …. )


  5. heinbloed says

    The heat makes them going bananas 🙂

    Poland has brown-outs since this week.
    Ukraine heard about this and offers solidarity with non-existent funds:



    So Russian power should help Poland. Provided no one stands in the way:


    I don’t know if it is correct to call this “right wing politics”. To me it seems to be very communistic power politics.
    There in Katowice where IKEA closed the restaurant kitchen and the freezers ( http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-08-11/ikea-poland-takes-meatballs-off-menu-shuts-shop-amid-power-cuts) used to be Europe’s largest scrap smelter, the scrap came from Siberia and elsewhere, was melted, turned into sheets and bars and then being send back to Siberia ….probably via the Ukraine.

  6. heinbloed says

    One week ago we’ve read that German coal power plants are available for € 1.- ….

    The Polish government tops this, well, under bidding is the better expression:

    Coal mine for 1 Zloty !


    ” On Aug. 4, Tauron bid 1 zloty for the unprofitable mine, adding a laundry list of conditions and sparking a dispute with the Treasury minister, a supervisory board shuffle and a letter of protest by union representatives upset about the offer. ”

    The deal seems to go through:


  7. Hugh Sharman says

    The usual, nice picture of lotsa scary water vapour!

    • editor says

      Dear Hugh, apart from the fact that nobody claimed anything else, you might be confusing something here. Yes, those water towers are only emitting water vapour, but the chimneys of the Belchatow coal power plant, which are also in the photo, emit around 37 million tonnes CO2, as well as 1,6t of mercury, 316kg lead and other heavy metals every year. Best, Alexander

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