Climate Action

Michal Kurtyka on what policy support is needed to ensure a just transition across Europe

Climate Action caught up with Michal Kurtyka, Minister for Climate for the Government of Poland, to discuss what policy support is needed to ensure a just transition across Europe.

  • 04 May 2020
  • Rachel Cooper

Climate Action caught up with Michal Kurtyka, Minister for Climate for the Government of Poland, to discuss what policy support is needed to ensure a just transition across Europe.

How important is the European Union’s Just Transition Fund for Poland’s roadmap to net-zero?

Ensuring a just transition for all is a precondition to a successful climate policy. The transition to a climate neutral economy in Europe might bring benefits overall but its impact on specific regions, sectors and individuals will be different. The biggest challenge will occur in regions heavily relying today on fossil fuel extraction. The Just Transition Fund can help attract investments in those regions so as to offer to the local community quality jobs in new sectors. 

In what ways can clean energy innovation and sustainable investment help the Polish energy sector move away from traditional methods of generation and transmission?

Clean energy technologies are of prime importance in transforming the energy mix of our economy. Their falling prices combined with rising prices of emissions, put them in the centre of our interests. Currently, over 9.2 GW of renewable energy capacity is installed in the national power system. In the draft of the "Poland's energy policy 2040", we plan an increase in RES capacity to approx. 37 GW till 2040. As a result of auctions conducted in 2018 - 2020 approx. 4000 MW of onshore wind capacity will be developed. Also the first offshore wind farm should come on stream as of 2025 and by 2040 ca. 8 – 10 GW od offshore wind capacity should be in operation.

The same approach applies to electromobility:  Poland is the largest producer and exporter of electric buses in the EU, and the first electric "Bus of the Year" was created in Poland. Since 2016 the number of electric buses used in Polish cities has increased by 11 times, and their production by 12 times. During this time, the number of charging points has also increased by 5 times.

We are also studying the possibilities connected with clean coal technologies and the potential of hydrogen use. 

Why is it important to take a whole systems approach when looking at energy transition?

Energy is the cornerstone of all social and economic activity. We live in a global world, where everything and everyone is interconnected. Hence, searching ways of modernising our energy system is one of our biggest priorities. However, if we want to reach a climate Europe, this should be accompanied by a larger change taking place in the whole society, as well as transport, industry, agriculture. In addition to the systemic change of the energy sector, driven by the legal and economic frameworks established by the governments, there is a vast role of business, which has power to inspire and establish more eco-friendly consumer behaviours. Transition should take place in different spheres, including industry, business and societal awareness. Only when all of them are involved, transition can be effective and just. That is why I always try to add ‘solidarity’ to the term ‘just transition’ as its necessary condition. 

How much is the Polish government investing in the transition? What more can be done?

With this transition we are moving from a resource intensive system to a capital intensive system. It should be noted that the costs of Poland's possible achievement of climate neutrality are significantly higher than the average for other EU MS and may mean the need for additional investments of 1-3% of GDP. At the same time the cumulated capital in the society is lower in Poland than in other EU member states which makes it an even bigger challenge.

If we want to be able to achieve a climate neutral EU, we need to mobilise the appropriate resources. For the moment, the plan presented by the Commission indicates how to mobilise one third of what is needed to reach the current 2030 targets. We also need to make sure that the resources are directed where they are most needed and where the emission reduction can occur.

What policy and regulatory support is needed to ensure a just and fair transition across Europe?

Answering this question was one of the main priorities of Polish COP24 Presidency. Following the success of Katowice conference, we had the ambitious goal of building support among world leaders for the Solidarity and Just Transition concept as a foundation to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Basing on an extensive analysis and variety of international meetings, we produced a report ‘Solidarity and Just Transition’. (available here)

Ensuring a just transition for all cannot be achieved only through the Just Transition Fund. Its scope and size are too small to address all the challenges. The principles of a just transition need to be instead enshrined in each of the measures we will take. For each of its proposal, the Commission should analyse its consequences for those most impacted and include solutions to mitigate the negative impacts. Only then can we truly say that we are aiming for a just and fair transition across Europe.