Poland opposes EU environment ambition

WARSAW/BRUSSELS Wed Mar 7, 2012 3:09pm EST

WARSAW/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Poland is poised to wield its veto on Friday at a Brussels meeting seeking accord on how to shift to a low carbon economy by 2050 and has written to fellow EU environment ministers, urging them to share its views.

The ministers of the 27-nation bloc are gathering for a regular council meeting which will not set firm policy but is scheduled to approve a 2050 road-map, laying out milestones for carbon reductions beyond a set of 2020 policy targets.

Two government sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Poland would veto the environment council conclusions.

The blocking would be of political rather than legislative significance as the council conclusions do not have the force of EU policy.

"We cannot agree to anything that would directly or indirectly allow for higher emission reduction goals in the near future," one government source told Reuters.

Another also said Poland would definitely block the proposed text.

Other issues raised in the draft conclusions for Friday's meeting include the weakness of carbon prices on the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). They stop short, however, of the kind of clear call for intervention to support the market made in the European Parliament last month.

A copy of a letter seen by Reuters from Polish Environment Minister Marcin Korolec to his fellow environment ministers strongly objected to "radical proposals" to support the EU's carbon market, which has sunk to levels far below those needed to encourage low carbon investment.

"It would not only bring about grave political risks, but also undermine investor confidence in the stability of the EU climate legislation," Korolec wrote.

Poland, which relies on carbon-intensive coal for more than 90 percent of its electricity needs, has agitated against the EU's climate policies since it joined the bloc in 2004.

RESISTANCE TO HIGHER CARBON PRICE

It has said a higher carbon price could harm its economy and has sought to hold on to a huge surplus of Kyoto carbon permits, which Denmark, current holder of the EU presidency, and other nations have argued could undermine the environmental integrity of the Kyoto process to fight global warming.

As the previous holder of the six-month presidency last year, Poland began its tenure by blocking an attempt then to move beyond existing targets, which include a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions, and sign up to a 25 percent milestone.

At the end of its presidency, Poland was at the head of the EU delegation to climate change talks in South Africa which managed to salvage the Kyoto process on curbing global warming.

Korolec's letter to his fellow ministers, dated March 6, said that after the EU's set of 2020 targets expires the logical solution would be for all carbon-cutting efforts to fall under the umbrella of the global United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

"It is clear that after 2020, we should put all our efforts into the UNFCCC system and align the EU one to it," he wrote.

Poland's views set it on a collision course with other EU members, notably Denmark, which has set environmental ambition for the 27-member bloc at the heart of its presidency.

Environmental groups said they believed Poland was isolated and noted it had not managed to gather co-signatories from other east European nations, which have sided with it in the past.

Non-governmental group the Polish Climate Coalition has written to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk urging against a veto of Friday's council conclusions, which it said would be "a great political mistake."

"Studies show that over 90 percent of Poles recognize that climate change is caused by human activities," the open letter said.

Zbigniew Karaczun from Warsaw Agricultural University's Department of Environmental Protection, who signed the letter as the Climate Coalition's expert advisor, told Reuters Poland was risking isolation.

Following transitions in Poland from Communism to a free market economy and then to a common EU market, he said it was difficult to propose another shift to a low-carbon economy.

"Nevertheless, we believe that we need to do it if we want to secure economic growth - we need innovation, green jobs," he said.

(Editing by James Jukwey and Jim Marshall)