Put your people and your forests first, not growth, Greenpeace tells Poland

WARSAW (Reuters) - Greenpeace has called on Poland’s nationalist government to focus on citizens’ wellbeing and the environment rather than on economic growth when it lifts its coal-reliant economy from lockdown.

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Poland this week started to ease some of the restrictions it launched to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, saying it needs to put its economy back on a growth track. Before the pandemic, Poland’s economic growth was one of the fastest in Europe, at 4.1% in 2019.

Poland, whose coal mining industry employs 83,000 people, is the only EU member not to have pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, arguing it needs more time to replace its coal-fuelled power plants with cleaner ones. It has also been criticised by the EU for other environmental issues, including increased logging in ancient forest and bad water management.

“A focus on GDP growth and relentless overconsumption only worsens our situation - it is like pressing down the gas pedal in a car that is approaching a concrete wall,” Greenpeace said on Wednesday, marked as Earth Day around the world.

Greenpeace activists on Wednesday morning put a giant banner in front of a government building saying “Return to normal=crisis”, explaining that reverting to policies from before the pandemic would lead to a deeper climate crisis.

Pawel Szypulski, a director at Greenpeace, added that Poland should adopt schemes such as New Zealand’s wellbeing budget, introduced in 2019, which prioritises mental health and alleviating child poverty or Amsterdam’s “doughnut” model, introduced since the pandemic that focuses on social and ecological goals for better living.

Greenpeace said Poland should phase out coal by 2030 and become climate neutral by 2040, and should classify as protected up to 30% of the country’s surface area and optimise its water resources.

The environmentalists also urged Poland to stop industrial farming by 2030. Warsaw should uphold democracy and social justice, and provide high-quality healthcare and education, Greenpeace added.

The government’s spokesman was not immediately available to comment on Greenpeace’s statement.

To mark Earth Day, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda encouraged Poles to plant new trees and clean forests “especially today, a day which connects us so strongly with protecting all that is important from the point of view of sustainable development”.

Greenpeace’s appeal comes days after activists with Fridays for Future Poland criticised a film for school children made available on the Education Ministry website, which offered pros and cons of global warming, including the assertion that global warming would cut household heating bills.

The film has now been removed.

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Alexandra Hudson