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A top EU polluter, Poland hosts UN climate summit

The annual UN climate conference opened Monday in Poland, a European country that has been singled out for its pollution. Negotiations will continue until 2015, when an emissions agreement must be signed.


Smokestacks as high as the Eiffel Tower, 30 million tons of carbon dioxide produced each year … welcome to the Bełchatów Power Station in Poland.

This giant thermal plant produces 20 percent of the country’s electricity and has its own mine for the extraction of lignite, or brown coal.

Though Europe is considered one of the world’s “good students” when it comes to renewable energy, Poland continues to be a source of pollution, with coal plants providing 95% of the country’s energy.

Somewhat ironically, therefore, this year’s UN climate conference is being held in Warsaw.

Two years of negotiation on agenda

One hundred and ninety countries will attend this year's  conference – the 19th – from November 11 to 22. The aim will be to map out the main points of an ambitious global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions, which will then be signed in 2015 in Paris.

In an emotional appeal to delegates, Philippine climate negotiator Naderev "Yeb" Sano pledged to fast at the talks until concrete progress is made towards fighting the climate change he blames for the typhoon that battered his own home town.

"What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness right here in Warsaw," he said.

"I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves."  (AFP)

With the memory of 2009’s failed Copenhagen conference still fresh, the Warsaw conference is expected to kick start the negotiations that will continue over the next two years.

But it will be difficult for Poland to serve as an example at the talks, as Polish public opinion seems more sympathetic to climate change sceptics than to environmentalists.

“When you add up all the families who get by on revenue from the fossil fuel sector, you see that the survival of such industries should be a priority for the Polish government,” said Marek Uszko, interim president of Kompania Weglova, Europe’s biggest mining company, today ridden with debt. “Battling global warming exclusively in one part of the world, in this case Europe, is politically questionable.”

‘Reducing emissions by 80% before 2050’

The Polish government seems to agree.

“It’s a question of energy independence,” argued Tomasz Dabrowski, head of the finance ministry’s energy department. “We have so much coal here that we can use and therefore avoid increasing imports of fossil fuels.”

The Polish government’s timid measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions mainly entail modernising existing plants and building cleaner ones.

Environmentalists say such action is insufficient – particularly because Poland has already vetoed the EU road map for greenhouse gas emission reductions, though it has approved the text’s overall goal of reducing emissions by 80 percent before 2050.

Picking up where Kyoto leaves off

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if swift action is not taken, global warming could reach 5°C above pre-industrial levels, well above the target limit of 2°C set by the international community.

For now, the only international text limiting greenhouse gas emissions is the Kyoto Protocol, but it is limited to  industrialised countries – with the exception of the US, which never ratified it – and applies to just 15 percent of the world’s emissions.

The next agreement, which will pick up where Kyoto leaves off when it expires in 2015, will have to include the US, as well as emerging industrial powers – especially China, which remains the world’s biggest polluter.

(With wires)

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