Solidarity – The Pillar Of A Successful Energy Transition
By Michał Kurtyka, Poland’s Minister of Climate and Environment
Without a shade of doubt, the energy transition is an opportunity to grow and take advantage of its economic potential. However, throughout this process, we need to be aware of certain risk associated with progress, especially for more vulnerable social groups. Putting citizens and equity first is the only way to ensure that the newly introduced changes do not put the economies of developed countries on lanes with varying speed.
Recent solutions launched by the government of New Zealand to make the public sector carbon-neutral by 2025 can be used as a model for many countries. Poland also believes that the example needs to be set from the top, which is why two years ago our government has enacted the Act on Electromobility and Alternative Fuels, which I had the pleasure to work on as Deputy Minister of Energy. In addition to numerous particularly innovative solutions developed with Polish market realities in mind, it also contains a provision that obliges public administration bodies and local government units to expand – and in many cases build from scratch – their fleets of electric vehicles. I believe that investments in zero-emission transport, among other solutions, are an opportunity that will allow us not only to ensure cleaner air for us all, but also to create many new jobs in this innovative sector.
Countries of Central Europe – including Poland in particular – are fully committed to reducing emissions and modernising their economies in a sustainable manner; however, we should keep in mind that the region as a whole sets out on this journey from a starting point that is different from all the other EU Member States, and that we have a long way to go. The situation in which we found ourselves by the end of the 1980s was dire, especially in comparison to countries outside the sphere of influence of the USSR.
Since then, enormous progress has been made in Poland. We managed to achieve success – due to sacrifices of the entire society, as well as extensive investments carried out by companies. Thanks to economic growth, we managed to reindustrialise the country and adapt the energy sector and industry to the increasingly demanding environmental standards in force in the European Union, which is particularly apparent in terms of emission reduction, which occurred in Poland as a result of signing the Kyoto Protocol. In spite of the commitment to reduce emissions by 6%, we actually cut them by more than 30%, all while our GDP more than doubled in this time period.
Climate neutrality, which we are gradually pursuing, is an unprecedented challenge. Energy sector, transport, industry, agriculture, waste management – we are in for a revolution, not unlike the one started by Copernicus centuries ago! We entered the transition period with an energy mix nearly fully dependent on a single fuel. In spite of starting from a difficult position, Poland has been keeping up with other European countries in terms of coal use reduction dynamics – over the last 30 years, its use for energy production went down by 19%, which serves as the best proof that while growing, Poland is focusing on alternative energy sources.
In Poland, employment related to the coal mining sector reaches 200,000 jobs. The most vulnerable groups should be offered special support, and the focus of all efforts must be on people and the idea of equitable and just structural change. We have set an example of this during the 2018 COP24 climate summit in Katowice, which I chaired. 55 countries from all over the world – including the majority of EU Member States – have signed a declaration stating that taking into account the social aspect of the transition towards a low-carbon economy is key to gaining public acceptance and confidence in the transformation. Thanks to our efforts, the issue of a just transition is now a mainstay in the reflections on climate policy development.
The ongoing pandemic and the difficult situation it has caused requires new, tailored responses and solutions, while our joint success hinges on close coordination between all countries. Thus, if we want to pursue this goal in a spirit of just and effective transition, we need to be guided by the principle of solidarity, so as not to leave anyone behind.