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Maciej Bukowski is an environment economist, former president of Warsaw's Institute for Structural Research (IBS) and author of a report on the perspective of a low-carbon economy in Poland. He says the country is perfectly able to make good its delay and achieve a more diversified energy mix, provided the political commitment exists.

Poland is perceived at EU level as a country that is hindering climate policy. Is that justified?

That's a tough question because if you look at the facts, you can say that Poland is to some extent hindering the process, given its scepticism towards climate policy and its preference for a slower process. On the other hand, though, there are states that are possibly less active but that support Poland's position and have well-founded reasons for doing so. The Central European states joined this climate policy a bit abruptly because this was not a fundamental issue at the time of the accession negotiations. Policy makers now fear that, for a country like ours, with a traditional industrial base, this policy can be too brutal and have significant social consequences. But this critical position could be more constructive if Poland perceived the ecological transition as an opportunity rather than a constraint, if instead of holding back the process it tried to transform it in such a way as to have the time to prepare and adapt to changes, with benefits for its economy. The old' EU states have had more time to modernise their economies than we have had. Brussels has to understand that the new member states need this time and adequate instruments.

As an environment economist, how do you assess Poland's public environment and climate policies?

Since the start of the transformation of our system to the market economy, in the 1990s, Poland has made a tremendous effort in terms of both emissions reduction and environmental standards. Our standards have taken a leap forward since the Communist era. Today, our standards are not very different from those of the most advanced economies. On the other hand, what does differentiate us is our energy mix, 90% coal-based, and industry's share in our total added value. So post-Communist Poland does have a tradition in this area. It has quite an exceptional instrument, the National Environmental Protection Fund, financed by green taxes' to which the coal sector contributes. The fund provides financial support for the ecological transition in many ways. So Poland is not passive, but is simply confronted with the fact that it has to continue its decarbonisation process at a very sustained pace and it is this rate of transition that causes concern to both the energy sector and political leaders. Our leaders form part of another generation and do not necessarily understand all the technological changes under way in the area of green energy. The question now is how, in this situation, to ensure that Poland joins the environmental avant-garde.

What energy mix would be appropriate and realistic for Poland and on what timescale?

These changes have to take place progressively so as to be economically viable and socially acceptable. I think that we could become a very low-carbon economy by 2050. A number of factors will have to come together for this to happen. Personally, I support a very diversified mix based on a large number of technologies. This should include a large share of renewables, up to 40%, largely on a diffuse basis, in other words small decentralised structures at the consumer's level. But there should also be more centralised renewables, with emphasis on wind, marine technologies and photovoltaic, given the technological advances in this area. And the mix should include gas or even coal combined with carbon capture and storage technology. I work from the principle that our energy mix will be strongly integrated at European level, with interconnections in the framework of the internal energy market. Imports will therefore have a place in a competitive environment. I also think, and on this point I disagree with my ecologist friends, that there is room in Poland for nuclear energy, making up around 10% of the mix. Coal will therefore have to stay in the picture for some time as a transitional element. The question of energy efficiency will be fundamental, both for construction and for transport. Poland still has great potential in terms of effort in this area.

What will this transformation cost?

According to our report, CO2 emissions in Poland can be cut by 70% from 1990 levels, taking into account an economic weight multiplied threefold under the effects of growth, at a cost of around 6 per tonne of CO2 for investors, which is very little. Our report also concludes that the total cost would be 343 billion, but would result in 426 billion in savings, leaving a positive balance of 83 billion. Staying with the coal model will also require major investments. The usefulness of our report is to show that by taking the path to energy transition, we are counting on innovation, which is cruelly lacking in the Polish economy, and on the development of a new industrial sector, with the positive stimulus to the economy that will result.
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Publication:Europe Energy
Geographic Code:4EXPO
Date:Aug 30, 2013

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