Coal-rich Poland laments reliance on Russia as dwelling provides run quick

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Like hundreds of thousands of Poles, Mateusz Szumlas would usually have coal delivered to his cellar by his native provider in good time for him and his associate to warmth their dwelling for winter.

However this 12 months Szumlas has needed to develop into one thing of a cross-border gas dealer, travelling to purchase coal within the Czech Republic and lugging it again to his Polish hometown of Świeradów-Zdrój. He solely expects to obtain a portion of the 4 to 5 tonnes he often will get delivered to his door, even after Poland’s parliament accepted emergency subsidies for the one-third of households that use coal to maintain heat.

“Folks are actually relying on the subsidies from the federal government, nevertheless it doesn’t actually assist resolve the issue when coal is unavailable,” Szumlas mentioned.

His hunt for gas is a consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that has left Poland, one of many final bastions of coal manufacturing within the EU, coping with an abrupt and unprecedented coal scarcity.

Poland’s authorities, by no means sluggish to be hawkish in the direction of Moscow, eagerly responded to the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine by banning imports of Russian coal.

However in doing so it additionally lower one of many nation’s most important sources of home coal provide. Whereas Poland is a giant coal producer, most is of low high quality and used primarily in energy stations. Russia provided about two-fifths of the coal burnt by Polish households.

The dearth has left Poland struggling to seek out substitutes from faraway producers reminiscent of Colombia and South Africa. The worth of coal in Poland has tripled from a median value of slightly below 1,000 zlotys per tonne final 12 months to greater than 3,000 zlotys/t.

Line chart of Year-on-year change in prices (%) showing Huge rises in coal and other fuel costs hit Polish households

Warsaw’s ban on Russian coal began in April and prompted panic shopping for by Polish households. In the meantime, an EU-wide ban solely got here into pressure this month, giving Germany and different EU nations extra time to make a smoother transition and replenish on Russian coal.

For Poland’s coal miners, the disaster reveals a long-term failure to advertise and put money into the sector. “After all the fast reason behind the issues with coal is the battle in Ukraine, however years of depressing vitality coverage led us to develop into depending on Russian coal,” mentioned Jarosław Grzesik, president of the mining department of the Solidarność commerce union.

The coal disaster comes as Poland’s economic system contracted 2.3 per cent within the second quarter from the earlier quarter, elevating the probability of a recession. Going through an election subsequent 12 months whose final result might hinge on how Poland manages to climate the financial affect of the Ukrainian battle, the rightwing coalition authorities has not too long ago introduced a number of emergency steps to alleviate house-heating considerations amongst voters.

Dark smoke rises from a town house chimney during winter in the center of Gliwice, Poland, on January 24 2022
Smoke rises from a city home chimney final winter in Gliwice, Poland © Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto/Getty Photos

In July, Warsaw ordered state-owned corporations to purchase an extra 4.5 million tonnes of coal to produce households, which might be slightly below half of the coal burnt annually in Polish houses. The federal government additionally suspended high quality requirements for the burning of coal for dwelling heating. Following an unsuccessful try to cap retail costs for coal, the federal government this month pushed by parliament a subsidy scheme that may permit every family to use for a one-time handout of three,000 zlotys to assist pay for coal.

The measures have been decried by environmentalists as a harmful U-turn on efforts to combat international warming, coming simply after Poland had reluctantly agreed to meet EU climate change goals and wean itself off coal. Final 12 months, the federal government signed an settlement with the mining business and commerce unions to close all its coal mines by 2049.

The coal subsidy scheme has additionally come beneath criticism as a result of it’s not means examined. About 30 per cent of coal subsidies are more likely to go to the richest 40 per cent of households, lots of which ought to as an alternative have invested in higher insulation and different heating, in keeping with the World Financial institution.

“A great way to mitigate the consequences of the vitality disaster could be to help solely these individuals who really want such help,” mentioned Reena Badiani-Magnusson, a senior economist on the World Financial institution. Total, she added, “the incentives to return to coal, even when shortlived, could destroy the laborious work that Poland has finished on the battlefield towards smog”.

Chart showing Poland had not made much progress in reducing its dependence on coal – domestic consumption of hard coal by member state, EU (mn tonnes)

The air high quality in Poland is among the many worst in Europe, in keeping with research from the European Atmosphere Company. As well as, residents who burn coal or wooden inside their houses have an virtually one-third larger chance of growing a respiratory illness, in keeping with research from a Warsaw-based basis, the Institute for Structural Analysis.

Nonetheless, the federal government insists that it’s going to prioritise coal earlier than chilly climate returns. “I would like there to be extra coal than is required, even for a harsh winter,” prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki informed parliament final month.

In late July, the primary cargo of South African coal docked on the Polish port of Świnoujście. However the nation’s ports are additionally getting clogged up with army tools certain for Ukraine and coal distributors are complaining about logistical issues and prices that they didn’t have when coal got here from close by Russia.

Given all these challenges, some vitality specialists forged doubt on Morawiecki’s declare that Poles shouldn’t worry this winter. “The state of affairs of Polish households through the winter will probably be very a lot climate dependent, which is worrying,” mentioned Ilona Jędrasik of the Polish workplace of ClientEarth, an environmental non-governmental organisation.

There are even predictions that spiralling coal costs will quickly immediate households to burn as an alternative cheaper wooden briquettes — and even waste — to maintain heat.

“The air high quality will probably be a lot worse this 12 months as a result of quantity of rubbish being burnt as a approach of saving cash,” warned Łukasz Horbacz, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Polish Coal Sellers.

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