Poland plans new coal mine as climate talks loom

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland will start investing in a new coal mine next year in the south of the country, Deputy Energy Minister Grzegorz Tobiszowski said on Thursday, a few days before U.N. climate talks start there in one of the country’s most polluted cities.

FILE PHOTO: Miners work about 500 meters underground at the Boleslaw Smialy coal mine, a unit of coal miner Kompania Weglowa (KW) in Laziska Gorne, Silesia, southern Poland September 11, 2015. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

“We’re planning an investment next year in building a new coal mine in Silesia, as this could make sense,” Tobiszowski told a press conference. He declined to give any further details.

“Poland needs coal and either this will be our coal or from outside,” Tobiszowski also said, referring to Poland’s increased coal imports, mostly from Russia as domestic production has fallen.

The most important U.N. climate conference since the Paris Agreement of 2015 opens on Sunday in Katowice in Silesia to try to work out a rule book for enforcing the pact.

Ahead of the talks, the European Union’s climate chief has called for the bloc to take the lead and aim for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“I don’t see that in 2050 there will be no coal-fueled power plants in Poland. The life span of power plants will not end in 2050,” Energy Minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski told the same press conference.

A draft version of Poland’s long-term energy strategy lays out plans to reduce the share of coal in power production to around 60 percent by 2030 from around 80 percent now.

Poland has also laid out goals to replace some coal with offshore wind, solar and also nuclear power by 2040, but none of these have yet had government consent, with the shift to nuclear especially divisive.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which won the 2015 election partly on a promise to support coal production, argues Poland cannot afford a sudden U-turn and needs the transition to greener energy to be gradual.

Environmental campaigners are seeking to increase the pressure on Poland for change and this week Greenpeace activists climbed a 180-metre chimney at state-run utility PGE’s coal-fueled power plant.

On Thursday Greenpeace threatened to sue PGE unless it phases out coal by 2030.

“After protesting at the plant, we have written to PGE asking the coal utility to do what is needed to avoid a climate catastrophe. If PGE does not respond to these requests, we will take them to court,” Pawel Szypulski from Greenpeace said.

PGE declined to comment.

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; editing by David Evans