U.N. talks leader sees greener future for coal-dependent Poland

KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) - The Polish official leading U.N. talks to revive the Paris climate deal said his country is committed to greener fuel even though his president has vowed not to let anyone “murder coal mining”.

FILE PHOTO: COP 24 President Michal Kurtyka addresses during the opening of COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

On Tuesday, the first full day of negotiations in Katowice, capital of mining region Silesia, President Andrzej Duda told workers celebrating the feast of their patron Saint Barbara that the industry had a long future.

The comments sent shock-waves through two-week U.N. talks Poland is hosting to agree rules for implementing the 2015 Paris accord to phase out fossil fuel.

Poland’s Deputy Environment Minister Michal Kurtyka told Reuters he is working toward an ambitious deal that respects “the letter and the spirit” of Paris and said it was the energy ministry, not the president, who set policy.

“Poland is not building any more new coal structures. It’s a very powerful engagement,” he said in the interview. “New additional capacities are being built in the renewables sector.”

Poland, which relies on coal for around 80 percent of its power and more than 82,000 mining jobs, is an unlikely host for U.N. climate talks, but Kurtyka said the country was eager to share with the rest of the world its capacity for transition.

Over the last 30 years, the former communist-run nation has shifted from a centrally-controlled economy, which the official said was not a good system for humans or the environment.

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Now, as the presidency of climate talks, he said Poland was seeking “a just transition” to a greener world.

Those comments may allay concern over Duda’s speech on Tuesday where he declared to miners: “Please don’t be worried. As long as I’m president of Poland, I won’t let anyone murder coal-mining.”


Together with Britain, Poland on Tuesday launched an initiative to promote electric vehicles, which Kurtyka said would be less polluting than conventional engines even if they were powered by coal-fired electricity.

Trained as an engineer, Kurtyka said electric vehicles were more efficient than internal combustion engines, which generate waste heat and pollution.

Nearly 40 countries had signed up to the initiative on knowledge sharing, he said, and for Poland electric mobility could help the country generate jobs to replace mining.

Campaigners are highly critical of the pace of change as evidence mounts of the growing gap between the need to cut emissions and the work done so far.

This week’s U.N. talks are technical negotiations ahead of ministerial debate next week.

Kurtyka said challenges included sharing the burden between developed and developing nations of the cost of moving to a low-carbon world. But political will was strong to deliver on the 2015 Paris agreement and climate concern could override national agendas, even in politically divided times, he added.

“I think it is considered very much as a unique achievement of humanity,” he said of the Paris agreement.

“It is in their hands. It is in the parties’ hands to reach a consensus,” he said, referring to the nearly 200 nations involved, adding: “I am very reassured. Everybody’s willing to progress.”

Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne