Poland, Wedded to Coal, Spurns Europe on Clean Energy Targets – by Danny Hakim and Mateusz (New York Times – October 31, 2013)


BELCHATOW, Poland — They call it Poland’s biggest hole in the ground. The coal mine here is more than eight-and-a-half miles long, nearly two miles wide and as deep in parts as three football fields. Enough coal comes out of it to fuel Europe’s largest coal-fired utility plant, whose chimneys loom in the distance.

“The entire world population could fit in this hole,” Tomasz Tarnowski, an administrator here, said in a bit of proud hyperbole as he led a group of reporters on a walk near a towering mound of brown coal about halfway into the mine.

Poland is Europe’s coal colossus. More than 88 percent of its electricity comes from coal. Belchatow is one of its huge sources and the largest carbon emitter in Europe. (There’s no “belch” in Belchatow — it is pronounced bel-HOT-oof.)

This month, a United Nations conference on climate change will be held in Poland, a location many environmental activists consider the least appropriate choice they could imagine. And while the European Union has mapped out ambitious clean-energy goals intended to reduce the greenhouse gases linked to global warming, Poland has been its fossil-fuels holdout.

Within the European Union, Poland has been increasingly active in trying to block more aggressive regulations to curb climate change, in contrast to Germany, for example, which has bet its energy future on clean, renewable technologies like wind and solar.

Poland has also sought to beat back proposals against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a means of unearthing natural gas that much of the European Union — with the notable exception of Britain — warily regards as an environmental hazard.

At home, Polish officials have shown little inclination to end their infatuation with coal, saying their country cannot afford to convert to alternative sources of energy quickly. As if to prove a point, the coal industry has scheduled its own climate summit meeting in Warsaw this month, running concurrently with the United Nations conference.

All this is happening even as Polish citizens have taken to the streets of Krakow, protesting the city’s poor air quality.

Asked for his own view on climate change, Marcin Korolec, the environmental minister, said in an interview, “I am not skeptical about climate change; I am skeptical about some European ways of how to address it.” He said that his country had made progress in reducing carbon emissions but that Europe was moving too far ahead on the issue. “This concept of leading by example is not delivering,” he said of Europe’s approach. “Leading by example, you cannot renegotiate.”

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