UPDATE 2-Polish minister fired but still heads UN climate talks

Wed Nov 20, 2013 11:23am EST

* Questions raised over Polish commitment to negotiations

* Outgoing minister says will keep role at talks

* PM says move intended to accelerate shale gas development

By Pawel Sobczak and Alister Doyle

WARSAW, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Polish Environment Minister Marcin Korolec lost his job on Wednesday in a government reshuffle, which may undermine his leadership while Warsaw hosts U.N. climate talks involving almost 200 countries.

Korolec assumed the presidency of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change on Nov. 11, the first day of the two-week conference that aims to make progress on a global climate deal to be agreed by 2015.

Despite losing his ministerial post, he continues as Poland's representative at the talks and is to hold the presidency throughout 2014.

"Mr Korolec will remain the government's plenipotentiary for the climate negotiations," Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a news conference.

At the ministry, he will be replaced by Maciej Grabowski, former deputy finance minister responsible for preparing shale gas taxation. Tusk said the change was aimed at accelerating Poland's drive to develop shale gas.

The dismissal raised questions over Poland's position in the negotiations. A U.N. representative told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference that the move could create problems at the end of this week when talks are scheduled to end.

The president of the talks has the power to wield the gavel, fighting off any last-minute objections and therefore forcing through some sort of agreement, he said.

But if the president does not have the authority of his government, then his power in the eyes of other countries is reduced, the representative said.

Some U.N. delegates also said the timing of the reshuffle indicated that Poland was not interested in ensuring tougher global action to combat global warming.

"Poland hosted a conference to promote coal earlier this week and now this. You have to question how serious they are," one delegate said

Korolec said the change in his position will formally take effect on Nov. 27.

"I would like to reassure you the Polish presidency of COP 19 climate summit remains unchanged," he said.

"I realise the consistency of the work of the COP presidency can only be achieved by a continued effort. Now I will be able to fully focus on the efforts of climate negotiation without the ... daily responsibilities of the ministry."

SHALE ACCELERATING

Poland, which generates 90 percent of its electricity from coal, has been one of the most reluctant European Union members to toughen the existing goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Environmentalists sharply criticised the latest move.

"This is nuts. Changing the minister leading the climate negotiations after a race to the bottom by parties of the convention shows Prime Minister Tusk is not sincere about the need for an ambitious climate deal," Maciej Muskat, director of Greenpeace Poland, said.

"Furthermore, justifying the change of minister by the need to push the exploitation of another fossil fuel in Poland is beyond words," he added.

The environment ministry under Korolec had been criticised for hampering work on new shale gas legislation, which together with red tape and poor results forced a number of global players to quit Poland.

Some people in the industry had hoped for a change in the ministry in hopes that work on the necessary legal changes would speed up. But others were afraid that a change could delay the proceedings even further.

The government, hoping shale gas will deliver Poland from reliance on energy imports from Russia, has proposed new legislation to ease conditions for investors. But the final draft has not yet been adopted.

Kamlesh Parmar, chief executive of 3Legs Resources, a company looking for shale gas in Poland, and the head of an industry lobby group, said he hoped to continue work with the ministry, "to improve procedures and administrative burdens" and remove "regulatory uncertainty".

U.S. oil and gas major Chevron declined to comment on the government changes.

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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