EU commits to being carbon neutral by 2050, but gives Poland exemption

Coal-reliant Poland insists will get to zero emissions, but at own pace

Tim Wyatt
Friday 13 December 2019 13:24 GMT
Ursula von der Leyen addresses the media at an EU summit on Friday
Ursula von der Leyen addresses the media at an EU summit on Friday (AP)

The EU has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050, but Poland has been given an exemption.

Leaders from across the continent met in Brussels on Thursday and after 10 hours of debate agreed a bloc-wide deal to hit net-zero emissions by 2050.

However, Poland, which relies heavily on coal, remained opposed to the plan and insisted it be given an opt-out.

The European Council president, Charles Michel, acknowledged the target would be more difficult for some countries than others, but insisted the EU would continue to try to persuade Poland to sign up.

“We took this decision with respect for many concerns of different countries because we know that it’s important to take into consideration the different national circumstances and also different starting points,” he said.

The net-zero target came shortly after the new European Commission, led by Ursula von der Leyen, announced a European Green Deal, which sets out a roadmap for how the continent will make the transition.

“We will help our economy to be a global leader by moving first and moving fast,” she said. We are determined to succeed for the sake of this planet and life on it – for Europe’s natural heritage, for biodiversity, for our forests and our seas.”

But meeting the objectives of the Green Deal will still require huge investment by member states, the commission added. To achieve current 2030 climate targets, it estimates that an extra £217bn of spending would be needed per year.

The plan includes an £84bn “just transition mechanism” to help countries more dependent on fossil fuels to shift to renewables.

A joint statement by EU national leaders announcing the 2050 target admitted that one member state could not yet commit to the objective, without naming Poland.

The country’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said it was right his nation was given an exemption.

“Poland would be reaching climate neutrality at its own pace,” he said.

Poland is the largest coal producer in the EU and about 60 per cent of its energy comes from burning coal. There is also little discussion of climate change in Polish media and politics, while the coal industry remains a powerful lobby.

“Many Poles believe the cure – climate change mitigation – could be worse for Poland than the disease,” wrote the academics Zbigniew Kundzewicz and James Painter in The Conversation last year.

It was not just Poland dragging its feet, however. The Czech Republic and Hungary only gave their backing to the 2050 target after assurances they could continue to include nuclear power in their renewable energy mix.

The EU leaders’ meeting came at the same time as the latest UN-sponsored climate talks – COP25 – were wrapping up in Madrid.

During the meeting, the Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg attacked politicians who constantly tried to water down collective action with loopholes.

“The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening when, in fact, almost nothing is being done apart from clever accounting and creative PR,” she said.

“In just three weeks we’ll enter a new decade, a decade that will define our future,” she added. “Right now, we’re desperate for any sign of hope.”

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