Coal Transitions in Poland – a debate

How can the Polish coal sector meet Paris Agreement goals? Outcomes from our workshop in Katowice

Prepared by IBS, previously posted on

“What might feasible, fair and consistent with the Paris Agreement (below 2ºC) pathways look like?” was the key question of the workshop on the Polish coal sector organised by Climate Strategies (CS), Institute for Structural Research (IBS) and Institut du Développement Durable et des Relations Internationales (IDDRI). The workshop took place in Katowice, Poland, at the Central Mining Institute on Monday, 10th December 2018.

Photo: Adrián Lauer

The workshop, which aimed to provide possible transformation pathways in the Polish coal sector and their impact on the country’s labour and energy security, focused on these crucial questions:

  • How will the transition in coal sector affect coal production and consumption?
  • What social and economic consequences could such changes entail?
  • How should the transition challenges be reflected in strategies for the Polish coal sector, workers, companies and communities?

Andrzej Błachowicz (Climate Strategies) opened the event and moderated the first session. The first part of the workshop was dedicated to presentations of studies on Polish and international cases of coal transitions presented by researchers and specialists, with a focus on analysing the transition’s implications on the labour market in Poland. For the second part, invited Polish stakeholders commented on the research input and discussed feasibility of proposed pathways and solutions.

Snapshot of policy initiatives on coal transitions from around the world

Oliver Sartor (IDDRI) presented the main results of the Coal Transitions project. Presenting cases from Germany, South Africa, India, China and Australia, Sartor argued that transition in the coal sector is already happening in many countries, striving at reduction in use of this raw material. He also highlighted the decrease in the cost of renewable energy, its broader use and the creation of jobs related with clean technologies. Sartor argued that transition in accordance with the Paris targets is possible if long-term planning is applied, in order to avoid risks related with energy security, growing energy prices and reduction of employment in mining.

Photo: Adrián Lauer

Coal transitions pathways – challenges and opportunities for Poland

Jan Witajewski-Baltvilks and Aleksander Szpor of the Institute for Structural Research (IBS) presented the results of the report on the transition of the mining sector in Poland. Szpor reminded the group that the energy sector, dominated by coal-based electric generation, is the main source of CO2 emissions in Poland. He explained that the different varieties of extracted coal have different uses in the Polish energy sector and the economy at large, as well as in particular regions.

Jan Witajewski-Baltvilks presented studies on possible transition pathways to achieve ambitious goals of emission reduction whilst minimising layoffs in the mining sector. According to the analysis based on the optimal energy mix model (MOEM), the scenario of reducing emissions down to the level expected by the European Commission is feasible if energy efficiency is improved, emissions in transport are reduced and the share of renewable energy sources in energy generation is increased.

It should be noted that this scenario would not involve lay-offs in mining on a large scale. The sector would be phased down gradually, over the next 30 years. This means that the drop in production would go hand in hand with the decline in employment resulting from retirement of miners. However, a prerequisite for this scenario is to reduce inflow of new workers to the sector. Research by the IBS has explored alternative job markets, arguing that many jobs have been created and will continue to be created in the processing industry and in construction (→presentation).

The coal transition in Poland: lessons from the past

Ian Walker, a lead economist at the World Bank, presented the results of a study on transition of the Polish energy sector, with a particular focus on the labour market (→ presentation). Using models that forecast the decline of coal in energy generation and assesses past, present and future impacts on the; economy, labour markets and local development in mining regions, the study shows that future transition processes will have significantly less noticeable negative consequences for the population of mining regions in comparison with the economic transition of 1990s. This is due to, among other factors, a more diversified economic structure, with greater chance to adjust workers’ capacities to employers’ needs.

Walker also agreed with the IBS researchers on the role of ageing workforce in a smoother transition by natural attrition (retirement) in the sector. However, unskilled mining workers will disproportionately suffer from the negative impacts of the transition, hence the need to put particular focus on this vulnerable group (e.g. in retraining schemes) so as to ensure a just transition process.

Stakeholder roundtable

After the presentations, representatives from Polish regional governments, trade union, environmental NGOs and research centres took part of a roundtable, moderated by Daniel Kiewra (IBS).

Photo: IBS

Jakub Chełstowski, the Marshal of the Silesia Region, argued that the schemes developed by the previous local government are reasonable and heading in the right direction. He noted that dialogue and consultations with local organisations and communities are important to him, recognising the challenges that non-state local actors face when trying to reach large institutions, something learned from his own experience as a long-term member of a NGO. The Marshal noted that the previous mining transition programmes in Poland were not entirely successful and only the most recent one, started in 2016, constitutes a real chance for reconstruction of the Polish mining sector.

Kazimierz Grajcarek, the former Chairman of the mining and energy section of the “Solidarność” trade union, noted that restructuring of the mining sector in Poland should not be focused solely on Upper Silesia, because transition processes also resulted often in personal tragedy for people involved in the hard coal sector in other Polish regions. Grajcarek reiterated the unfair competition faced by the Polish mining sector, mentioning that imported coal often originates from countries where mining involves violation of human rights, dismal working conditions, low environmental standards and dumping in trade.

Krzysztof Stefanek, Vice-Chairman of PZZ Kadra, indicated that a credible alternative for coal reduction is needed. Decision-making in this area should not be rash and requires thorough analysis and consultations.

Izabela Zygmunt, a representative of the Polish Green Network, argued that local governments and organisations are often excluded from dialogues on energy transition in Poland, even though there is evidence of positive impacts from their inclusion. As an example, she indicated the Ziemowit Mine in Imielin, where decisions on extension of the period of operation of mines are being currently consulted with local organisations and population. Their active involvement in discussions has an effect, at least for the time being.

Stanisław Prusek, Director of GIG, stated that the estimated costs of transition significantly exceed the region’s capacity. Referring to the results of research conducted by the Academy of Economy in Katowice, he argued that costs are driven up by the high number of workers employed in mining and in dependent sectors. He noted that an abrupt phasing out of mining might result in loss of income from the revenues of the mining sector and its dependent industries.

Piotr Lewandowski, President of the Board, IBS, noted the changing circumstances in relation with the challenges of transition in the 30 years’ history of the process. Policies reducing the use of inefficient technologies related to coal mining and consumption are also leading to development of new industries in alternative technologies. As a consequence, new jobs will emerge in these new sectors, replacing disappearing jobs in mining and dependent sectors.