Poland will host the United Nations' climate talks later this month as governments try to reach an international agreement on how to tackle climate change. The Conference of Parties (COP19) will be held in Warsaw and will attract observers from civil society aiming to discuss issues and the concerns of the people affected by a changing climate.
One of those attending will be Urszula Stefanowicz, who is a campaigner on climate issues for Friends of the Earth Poland (Polish Ecological Club). She spoke to Friends of the Earth Europe about her work and the upcoming conference.
Tell us about the work of Friends of the Earth Poland around climate issues
The Mazovian Branch of the Polish Ecological Club holds the Secretariat of the Polish Climate Coalition, which is group of 23 non-governmental organisations. Amongst other climate issues we work towards the development of renewable energy and an increase in energy efficiency in Poland. In both areas we work by pushing for proper implementation of the relevant EU directives, we monitor the legislative processes and prepare materials for the government administration and MPs.
This autumn, in the run up to COP19, we have also been working on promoting climate science, especially in connection with the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We worked in partnership with the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Institute for Sustainable Development and the Polish Academy of Sciences to organise a conference with international keynote speakers to discuss this report and how best to communicate this information and its implications to the Polish public.
What will be the role of the Climate Coalition at the COP?
Our role during the COP will be largely communication-focused. The information gained from the conference and our other public engagement experience will prove invaluable when informing the public about the COP19, the reasons for the negotiations and the importance of the problem they aim to solve.
We will try to explain the basics of COP19 to the media, and use this occasion to also increase the visibility of the huge potential for positive changes in the energy and climate policy of Poland. Similarly, we will seek to highlight the harmful outcomes of blocking progress on these issues. We will also address the human impact of climate change through the Climate Witness community.
COP19 gives us a chance to reach the society with information that climate change is real – not everyone in Poland knows that. All people should also be aware that consequences will influence our everyday lives – that we have no choice but to protect the climate. But at the same time they should understand that protecting climate can be beneficial for our economy and our individual lives – for example saving energy saves money.
What is the current position of the Polish Government on climate issues?
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in September this year "The future of Polish energy is in brown and black coal, as well as shale gas". Polish officials quite often repeat that statement publicly in different variations. I am aware that some people have expressed dismay at Poland's decision to host a 'Coal summit' at the same time as the Conference of Parties.
The Polish Government is influenced by groups such as the miners' unions and the Solidarity movement who also have wider support in Polish society. The energy companies are partially state owned so the government has an interest in their continued undisturbed functioning and financial success. Coal currently produces 90% of energy in Poland and the mining sector employs approximately 100,000 people. The country's strong dependency on coal and a lack of consistent vision for the future of the Polish energy system suggests an ambitious deal will be hard to reach.
The Polish Government would like the prestige of a positive announcement from COP19 but their commitments towards Polish energy companies and miners will likely mean that as a presidency they will focus on the architecture of the new agreement and financial issues rather than concrete mitigation measures.
What are your hopes or expectations for COP19?
The Polish environmental movement has recently grown in strength but it will be great to have NGOs from so many different countries in Poland, supporting us in turning the tables in the Polish society and pushing the need for action on climate change into the public consciousness.
My real hope is that COP19 will help polish citizens realise that climate change is real, it is important, it will influence lives of every one of us, and we all have to be part of the answer.