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The upcoming UN Climate Summit, and 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24), is to be held in Poland in the city of Katowice in December of this year. It will be the 4th UN climate summit presided over by Poland, and the 3rd hosted in the country – with the previous Polish summits held in Bonn (COP5), Poznan (COP14) and Warsaw (COP19).

The summit is bringing a lot of international (climate) attention to the region, and provides a good window of opportunity to review the region’s climate ambitions, and during which the Polish government might have to account for a lot of embarrassing questions.

Poland has, so far, always come around to actively participating in global climate action treaties. “I don’t see any actions [by the Polish government] to effectively deny climate change or stop global mitigation efforts,” stated Joanna Maćkowiak Pandera, President of Forum Energii, a think-tank in Warsaw.

Other observers are more careful in thinking that Poland may use the language from the international agreements at UN and EU summits, but interpret it differently at home. In its first official statement regarding the upcoming Katowice COP, the country’s government stressed the aspects of the Paris Agreement which state that all parties can follow “a self-determined pathway for achieving their own objectives in a climate-neutral manner” (something they also emphasized when signing the Paris Agreement) .

One of the main pathways the Polish government envisions to reach greenhouse gas neutrality is by creating what it calls “forest carbon farms”, letting Poland’s extensive forest cover account for most of the countries’ CO2 mitigation measures while at the same time continuing to burn coal.

During the last UN climate conference in Bonn, in May 2018, the Polish government already shared its intentions to focus on ‘the sequestration of CO2 by ecosystems’ and ‘clean coal research’ as its main climate strategies, and during a side event in Bonn it presented cost-efficient green technologies, such as energy-efficient housing, waste recycling, agro-biomass, solar energy and ReduxCO (a so-called ‘green technology for fossil fuels’).

Though the Polish host is keen on having the Katowice summit embedded into the global climate regime, observers still worry how the government’s overall pro-coal line will influence the talks. “We’ve seen in Bonn that the Polish delegation has put obstacles in the way of subjects like the Talanoa Dialogue and the question how countries can become more ambitious next year,” stated Sven Harmeling, Climate Change Advocacy Coordinator at CARE International, after the May intersessional.

After hearing the news of the Polish presidency of the next UN climate summit, Stefan Krug of Greenpeace Germany stated: “We saw at COP19 in Warsaw 2013 that the Polish presidency maintained its position of a neutral host to the summit and they will assume that role again – but COP 24 will need a progressive presidency, not only a neutral one. They also made it clear that Poland wants to continue to burn coal for the foreseeable future.”

The Katowice region is still highly reliant on coal.

Katowice, in Upper Silesia, is an industrial hub and coal mining city, meaning the second COP in a row will be held very near working coal mines. As Bonn, the technical host of COP23, has found during the past UN Climate summit in November 2017, this invites constant criticism from civil society, pointing out that coal mining and burning is hardly conducive to the Paris Agreement’s overall target of keeping global warming to well below 2°C.

Marcin Krupa, the mayor of Katowice, when asked about the outcome of COP24 in his town, said he would welcome a decision “reflecting the Polish energy problem and its dependence on coal”.

He admitted that it would be difficult to convince representatives of other countries to continue using energy from fossil fuels, but that he can’t imagine the same to hold for Poland itself: “We do not have anything other than coal (…) It would be good if we keep holding on to using coal a bit longer, but they [the Polish government] have already indicated that we want to start using coal in an ecological way, because there is a lot of research for using it in a clean way “- he noted.

COP24 has a serious task ahead: to set the rules that will govern the Paris Agreement, in which all parties agreed to commit to national contributions to climate action. The agreement is, however, based on a bottom-up process in which countries largely determine their own contributions and strategies, making it absolutely necessary to have mechanisms in place for verifying climate actions, delivering sanctions to states that do not meet their targets, and increasing climate ambitions.

With this much at stake, the words of the so-called High-Level Champion for Poland, Tomasz Chruszsczow, are a worrying omen, when he describes the upcoming summit as: “Instead of driving enthusiasm, let us use common sense.”

Arthur Wyns

About Arthur Wyns

Arthur Wyns is a tropical biologist and science journalist who writes about climate change, environment and migration. He manages Programs and Partnerships for Climate Tracker since 2017. With a group of biologists he founded Lonely Creatures, an organisation that brings under attention the stories of endangered species around the world.