The two ends of the Continent are at very different stages of their exit from coal. Spain is almost done — and can now reap the benefits — while Poland is only starting.
That saw quite different takes on demands to slash emissions and phase out fossil fuel power — a key aim of the U.S.-led summit.
Polish President Andrej Duda appeared notably out of step with other leaders touting ambitious climate goals.
“In Poland over the next two decades we aim to build a new zero-emissions energy system, thanks to which the level of coal will fall from the current 70 percent to even 11 percent by 2040,” he said, adding that all coal-fired power would end by 2049.
That’s a huge cut for Poland, but still puts Warsaw at odds with the rest of the EU; Germany plans to end all coal-fired power by 2038, and the Czech Republic is eyeing the same year.
While praising Poland’s role in hosting the COP24 global climate summit in 2018, Duda balked at committing Poland to sign onto Brussels’ 2050 climate neutrality goal, saying that while Poland acknowledged and had the ambition to implement the target, it was not by “pure political declarations” that Warsaw intended to “change the reality.” That leaves Poland as the only EU country not to commit to domestic climate neutrality by mid-century.
He spelled out a vision for the transition to a “balanced and low-emissions energy mix” based on renewables, nuclear and natural gas. He said that “the only solution” for Poland, while it waited to build its first nuclear power plant, was “simply using energy from gas.”
Activists like Greenpeace’s Joanna Flisowska ridiculed Duda’s speech, calling it “a complete embarrassment” at a time when Poland needed to make firm climate commitments.
In contrast to Duda, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s speech at the same session of the summit highlighted how deeply Madrid has committed to its green transition.
“Investing in climate ambition and just transition policies today makes better economic and social sense,” Sánchez said, adding that Spain expected to create as many as 350,000 jobs thanks to decarbonization schemes.
Sánchez celebrated the closure of all of Spain’s coal mines and most of its coal power plants. Last year, electricity generation from coal stood at just 2.6 percent — down from 15 percent in 2018.
“The world is asking us to end the expansion of fossil fuels and we want to say that we listen and are determined to take action,” he said.
Sánchez touted his government’s policies to ensure that communities hard-hit by the transition away from coal wouldn’t be abandoned.
Carlota Ruíz, an environmental lawyer at the International Institute for Law & the Environment, said Sánchez’s boasts were justified.
“The current government has done a great job and serious progress has been made,” she said, but cautioned that just transition agreements forged over the past three years haven’t been implemented yet, “so we still need to see what projects will benefit from the funds, but we can certainly talk about a promising just transition in process in Spain.”