Green Economics Conference

W dniach 16-18 czerwca 2017 w St. Hugh’s College w Oxfordzie odbyła się zorganizowana przez Green Economics Institute konferencja poświęcona zielonej ekonomii. Dr Adam Ostolski wygłosił na niej referat pt. „The Riddle of Poland’s climate policy”.

With COP24 in Katowice looming large, attention of the experts in climate policy is increasingly turning towards Poland. The country is a relatively constructive participant of negotiations under the umbrella of the United Nations, and yet a fierce oponent of any ambitious goals and obligations within the European Union’s climate policy framework. Numerous surveys give evidence to a high level of support for green energy sources within population, and yet the perception of urgency of the climate crisis is actually quite small. Moreover, the attitudes of the public do not translate into public policy. Successive governments, irrespective of their ideology and party composition, overtly defend the „Polish coal” against the spectre of a green transition „imposed” from Brussels, while at the same time apparently accepting the persiting dependence of the country from coal imports from abroad, in particular from Russia. From a certain distance, Poland’s climate policy and politics look like a knot of riddles.

Is Poland’s foreign policy stance on international climate agreements simply inconsistent? Why do successive governments maintain a skeptical, and in some cases even hostile, approach towards green energy sources? How to explain the fact that green-minded activists and experts have not been able to translate widespread support for green energy sources within society into a genuine political pressure on the policy makers? Can the European Union be helpful in changing this situation? And, most importantly, is there any prospect of change in Poland’s climate policy and politics?

My aim in this paper is to shed light on theses questions. With no pretence of providing exhaustive answers, I will use data from public opinion polls, discourse analysis and my own fieldwork observations as a participant in Polish environmental movement to elucidate obstacles and conditions for a green transition in Poland. I contend that the key to a more transformative energy policy and politics in Poland is breaking with the legacy of the post-1989 neoliberal transition. After 1989, Poland’s mining regions have suffered two waves of mine closing, hailed by the environmentalists as painful, but necessary steps toward a better future. The transition was anything but just, it produced mass unemployment and mass emigration, and most importantly a legacy of entrenched distrust towards any transformative project.

Is there any chance of breaking the deadlock? Around the time of the COP19 in Warsaw (2013), a new approach began to foment within the environmental movement. The March for Climate and Social Justice was a portent of a consequential shift: away from neoliberal enivronmentalism and towards a focus on just transition and a more serious interest in regional development. Instead of vilifying coal and miners environmental experts and activists started to adopt a more respectful style of communication, acknowledging the positive legacy of coal and mining culture in the past while insisting on the necessity of change for the future. The „strict parent” framework, where „Brussels” or the „Free Market” shows us the proper course of action and will punish us if we decline to follow, is increasingly replaced with a „nurturing parent” narrative. This new, less divisive environmental discourse, is slowly changing the state of the game. It will not produce change on its own, but is a key step to make it possible.