Can Poland afford to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? The answer to this and other related questions was sought by the participants of the conference "Is a low-emission economy an opportunity for innovative development in Poland in 2050?"
The starting point for the Senate debate, attended by scientists environmentalists and politicians, were economic analyses and scenarios of Polish growth prepared by the Institute for Sustainable Development and the Institute for Structural Research. Their research will be included in the final report "Roadmap 2050: Low Emission Poland 2050", aiming to determine how to modernize Poland so that by 2050 greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 80 percent.
In his presentation of the project "Low Emission Economy 2050", President of the Institute for Structural Research Dr. Maciej Bukowski stated that the subject is surrounded by a lot of myths, due to a lack of reliable information and analyses. "Breaking this barrier was one of the objectives of our project" - he explained.
In his speech, the President of IBS argued that the decisions that we need to take now will decide whether Poland maintains the rate at which it catches up with the leading economies in the world. He warned, however, that there exists the risk of a "middle income trap", similar to that observed in Spain, Portugal and Greece, after their periods of dynamic growth.
"We are doing too little to prevent this. We focus too much on the cost of reforms, and not enough on the potential benefits. A low-emission climate policy is no exception. Our project is meant to change this and enrich the public debate with reliable analyses. We hope that this will help the administration and politicians ", he stressed.
Most participants of the conference agreed that climate change and the need for protection against it, as well as dwindling resources of fossil fuels, are becoming ever stronger determinants of low-emission economy development.
According to Zbigniew Kamienski, deputy Director of the Department of Innovation and Industry at the Ministry of Economy, "the sooner we switch to a low-emission economy the better."
Kamienski said that his ministry is working on a National Programme for the Development of a Low Emission Economy, intended as an opportunity for our economy. "We see it not as a program to protect the environment, but as a development program that will also include a reduction in emissions", he explained.
On the other hand, Jacek Mizak, Director of the Sustainable Development Department of the Ministry of the Environment drew attention to the need to increase public awareness of expenditures on necessary investments in greenhouse gas mitigation. "The biggest problems in the debate about the costs and benefits of climate policy is that investment money needs to be spent now, while the benefits can be gained only in the future", he said.
According to Mizak, more emphasis should be put not on reduction goals but on things such as improving energy efficiency, which will ultimately be followed by the reduction.
President of the Institute for Sustainable Development, Dr. Andrzej Kassenberg, noted that Poland has already had some success when it comes to sustainable economic development. "Our major achievement is ‘disjoint development’, i.e. stabilization of energy consumption with a reduced consumption of resources. This is something that should continue. Other countries are doing a lot in climate matters and refuse to negotiate in order to be the first and better. This is an important message - we should not hide behind others and not negotiate, but see this innovative economy as an opportunity, not only for climate issues ", said the head of ISD.
In terms of the costs to be incurred, Kassenberg said that the opportunity may lie in the future EU financial perspective 2014-2010, in which up to 20 percent of the budget is to be spent on climate protection in various sectors of the economy. "If it means building a low-emission economy, we have a chance of seeing substantial funds as the country with the highest degree of coalification ", he stressed.
The biggest skeptic, in terms of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the range proposed by the European Union, was Stanisław Gorczyca, Vice-President of the Senate Environment Committee. According to him, a strict climate policy results in increasingly higher costs for European manufacturers, resulting in the transfer of production to Asia.
"If we choose to pull our own economy down, instead of creating conditions for the development of a competitive economy, environmental protection will soon cease to be important at all due to the lack of resources. Therefore, one must carefully consider all aspects of sustainable development, including economic, social, societal and environmental", said the senator.
According to Tomasz Podgajniak, Vice President of the Polish Economic Chamber of Renewable Energy, Poland needs a change in the energy mix as soon as possible and a transition to its own sources of energy. He added that the huge coal reserves do not guarantee energy security, because coal production is becoming more expensive.
Therefore, in his opinion, "the choices made today will 'petrify' the energy sector for the next 20-30 years." "If incorrect choices are made, we are going to wake up in a situation of total crisis", he added.
Tuesday's conference was part of a wider public debate on modernization of the Polish economy based on innovation, fuller utilization of labour force, clear and stable regulations, and the sustainable use of natural resources.