Poland is celebrating the centenary of its independence this year. After 123 years, our country has been independent for one generation. But we have only been taking sovereign decisions since the fall of communism in Europe — less than 30 years.
It is only since then that Poland has been able to shape its own policies, including on industry and energy.
The starting point, around the end of the 1980s, was quite gloomy compared to countries from outside the USSR’s sphere of influence. It is characterized by high greenhouse gas emissions, an entirely coal-based energy supply, heavy industry domination, an inefficient economy and a spike in unemployment — plus a total disregard for the environment and no understanding of nature’s role in economic policy.
Poland has since made huge progress, not only in providing electricity and heating to its dynamically developing country. With large investments by businesses and social sacrifices, we succeeded. Our GDP has increased nearly eightfold over 30 years. Even during the global economic slowdown, Poland avoided recession.
The economic growth allowed Poland to re-industrialize, and to adapt its energy sector and industry to the European Union’s ever-stricter environmental standards.
This shift is best shown in the emissions reductions Poland made after signing the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. We were required to cut emissions by 6 percent; we reduced them by more than 30 percent. Poland then joined the EU and adopted its legislation, including the renewable energy, energy efficiency and emissions reduction targets for 2020. And according to the European Environment Agency, we are on track to meet them all.
Our exceptional position gives us the opportunity and potential to tackle further challenges — starting with an energy transition that is already underway.
We entered the transition with an energy mix almost entirely reliant on one fuel: coal. But other energy sources are now being developed as Poland’s economy grows. As a result, we expect the share of coal to fall to around 60 percent in 2030, and down to half of total electricity demand in 2050.
Growing demand will increasingly be met with sources other than conventional coal-fired power. The share of renewable energy in the Polish mix is increasing. It is driven not just by our pursuit of targets to reduce carbon emissions, but also because a significant share of existing power units are approaching the end of their lifespans.
It also results from the need to diversify the energy mix and from technological developments. We want to make sure that in the future, Poland is using proven new energy sources and modern solutions. That’s why there are high expectations for a technology breakthrough that will allow for energy storage, the stability of supply and grid management in the emerging era of distributed energy systems.
Importantly, we are working to increase the number of households connected to high-efficiency district heating systems and expanding high-efficiency cogeneration and gas-fired heating. This is significant because the efficiency of individual heating installations is well below 65 percent, whereas heat plants and combined heat and power plants are at 85 percent. For remote areas, the alternative is to install electrical heating that benefits from the anti-smog tariff.
We also began the “Clean Air” program this year. Its primary objective is to make existing buildings more energy-efficient, and to substantially reduce air pollution emissions from residential buildings. The program will run for 10 years with a total budget of €25 billion.
“Other energy sources are now being developed as Poland’s economy grows. As a result, we expect the share of coal to fall to around 60 percent in 2030, and down to half of total electricity demand in 2050.”
Our priority is to focus on all sectors that produce emissions, including transport. One solution may be to implement low-emissions public transport. The Polish government’s sustainable development strategy sets out several regulations aimed at encouraging the rise of low- and zero-emission vehicles on our roads.
Poland’s clean transport package, meanwhile, includes an electromobility development plan, a framework policy to develop alternative fuels infrastructure, and the policy on electromobility and alternative fuels that was adopted last January. To support the measures I’ve listed, the government has set up a financial instrument, the Low-Emission Transport Fund, with €1.5 billion up to 2027.
At the same time, we are striving to increase the potential for negative emissions. We particularly value the role of forests and soil.
Poland is among the region’s leaders in sustainable forestry. Forests represent our growing potential and an important resource. Some 500 million trees are planted in Poland every year, and our forests are internationally certified for sustainable and responsible management.
We are also taking measures to adapt to the effects of climate change, with a national strategy up to 2030 and adaptation plans for cities of more than 100,000 people. Other important initiatives include sustainable agriculture and biodiversity protection, media campaigns on energy conservation and environmental education.
These measures provided the foundations on which to plan needed reductions in the Polish industry’s energy intensity. The improvement of infrastructure and the growth of rail networks further exemplify the measures Poland is taking to grow while respecting the need to protect the climate.
“Some 500 million trees are planted in Poland every year, and our forests are internationally certified for sustainable and responsible management.”
Poland’s landscape is changing dynamically. That’s why the motto for this year’s most important global climate policy forum — the United Nations’ COP24 summit in Poland — will be “changing together.”
We are hosting the conference in Katowice for a reason. Only 30 years ago, the city’s landmark was the factory chimneys that dotted its skyline. Today, Katowice is an icon of the effectiveness of Poland’s economic and social transformation strategy and its positive impact on the environment. The capital of Silesia is one of Poland’s greenest cities, with forests covering over 40 percent of its land.
Just 100 years after regaining independence, and after less than 30 years of sovereignty, Poland can be proud of its flourishing economy and record-low unemployment. And just a few days ago, we were officially reclassified to a developed market status.
We have gained environmental awareness and learned to benefit from sustainable development. We have diagnosed the problems, and are aware of how much more we still have to do.
Although we know from our own experience that solutions proven elsewhere cannot be mechanically copied over to Poland, we believe that an exchange of experiences and best practices can lead to the right political decisions. This is why we will gladly share our experiences and reflections during the COP24.
The Polish Electricity Association is an association of the electrical power sector, whose activities focus on issues related to the functioning of the industry in a modern market economy. We engage in actions and projects thanks to which the Polish electrical power industry can better meet the challenges related to European integration, ensuring power supply safety, competitive market, environmental protection and development of state-of-the-art technologies.