Poland’s new coalition government has declared a new opening in energy policy and offers much more ambitious transition goals, although the details of which are yet to be worked out. One of the first tasks of the new government is to propose a series of climate and energy strategies. Polarised opinions, attempts at disinformation, and political tension will make creating these guiding documents quite difficult. What can help is process transparency, thorough evidence, and numerical data. Before going deep into the numbers, the ruling coalition must make political decisions on the future role of coal, gas, nuclear energy, and internal combustion engines. A final decision also needs to be made on the climate neutrality target. These topics will spark controversy, however, there needs to be consistency between all sectoral targets for the implementation of the future climate and energy policy. The preparation of the country's new energy and climate policy should be underpinned by sound analyses to justify the choices made. A council composed of the country's leading experts should be established to be a substantive voice in the process.
Planning Poland’s Climate and Energy strategies in a new political opening
Poland lags behind in the preparation of certain strategic documents. The most recent Energy Policy until 2040 (PEP) was already outdated when it was published three years ago. It did not consider the economic and technological realities in the energy sector nor the pressing investment needs. On top of that, Poland is one of the few EU countries that has not adopted a Long-Term Strategy for low-carbon development. Nor did it submit a draft of its National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) update to the European Commission. The strategy for heating and district heating was never adopted, despite both sectors in dire need of quick transformation.
Strategic documents prepared by the PiS governments—the NECP, the PEP, the draft Heating Strategy, and the Polish Hydrogen Strategy—not only fail to prepare the country for the future but contradict each other, which undermines their credibility. They contain assumptions regarding both the use of coal and, for example, the entry of a nuclear power plant into the Polish system, which are disconnected from market, regulatory, and technological realities. These documents require urgent updates. Without a wholistic approach, the country’s energy security will be undermined.
Why the urgency?
For years, the perception in Poland was that strategic documents were not needed, rather that they get in the way of political decision-making. Long-term goals are seen not from the perspective of aspirations that mobilise action, but from the point of view of “the feasibility of their achievement” here and now. The Law and Justice government made a major effort in recent years to convince the public to build a nuclear power plant. Meanwhile, in terms of planning the development of renewables and moving away from fossil fuels in various sectors of the economy, a similar commitment was lacking. The only exception was the Clean Air programme, which distributes large amounts of funding for building renovations, but here, too, there is no coherent strategy nor goals anchored in the country's energy strategy.
In the context of a deteriorating balance between energy supply and demand and an accelerating energy transition (including through bottom-up decisions by households), it is necessary to clearly define the medium- and long-term goals to prepare society and companies for the coming changes. This is important for targeting investment, mobilising businesses, increasing competition, lowering costs, and optimising financial support for projects that Poland needs. It is also important to align supply chains and develop local industry where possible to secure key components.
Where to start?
Well-prepared public policies must derive from sound analysis. However, it is impossible for them to be based on numbers alone. It is necessary to make several important political decisions to defend and consistently implement the adopted goals and choose the optimal paths to reach them.
The current coalition government must set milestone dates for:
- moving away from coal in the power, district heating, and individual heating sectors;
- exiting natural gas usage in electricity, heating, and industry;
- cutting the registration of new and used internal combustion engine vehicles;
- further expanding offshore wind power (above the 18 GW already planned);
- commissioning nuclear power units, or a clear declaration to abandon further work on such projects;
- adopting a goal of climate neutrality by 2050 through a clear statement of its endorsement.
These dates set should be ambitious, considering the technical and financial capabilities of the country and society. They should be agreed based on broad consultations with stakeholders, experts, and citizens. Public acceptance of the changes will need to be achieved by conducting transparent policies based on reliable data and by preparing regulations and financial support programmes that will drive the necessary investments.
What strategic documents need to be prepared?
The government is obliged to create strategic documents based on national and EU law. Some
strategies should deal with specific sectors, others with the entire economy, and for different periods. The table below presents a list of these documents. It is worth noting that the adopted strategies need to be revised due to the update of the EU’s climate and energy policy in the ‘Fit for 55’ package.
The documents in Table were created at different times, by different authors, in different
ministries, using different analytical tools, and, on top of that, employing inconsistent assumptions. Some of these strategic documents have an overriding role over subsequent ones, which was not clearly defined when developed. It is now necessary to update these documents based on previously mentioned consistent political decisions.
With the change of government, attitudes toward climate policy have also changed. The state of the power sector, developments on the fuel markets, and new regulations are forcing a change in thinking. In accordance with the coalition agreement, the new government noted, among other things, the need to address the climate crisis and announced an acceleration of renewable energy development. This new opening should be anchored in, among other things, the long-term strategy, the NECP, and the PEP, and reflected in concrete decisions and implementation strategies.
A comprehensive approach
To avoid the mistakes of the past, the new government should take a comprehensive approach to the
development of strategic documents, i.e., begin work on all of them according to the hierarchy of importance, duration, and required level of detail. They must be consistent with each other, both in terms of determining the energy needs of various sectors (e.g., in connection with the electrification of heating, transportation and industry), as well as in terms of EU laws and strategies.
The first step: political decisions
There is a need for political agreement within the government on the aforementioned milestones regarding the role of coal, gas, and oil in the economy, as well as acceptance of alternatives and the determination to implement changes.
Consistency between documents and strong coordination
Consistency in the preparation of documents should be guaranteed by the Ministry of Climate and
Environment, which is responsible for the process, with the help of a general contractor that will coordinate the work of several institutions (e.g., research institutes under the Ministry). The documents should be prepared with common datasets including pricing and technology, preferably using the same energy models.
The ministry does not have enough resources of its own to conduct such complex analytical work and later operate with the developed assumptions in inter-ministerial and public consultations. Therefore, it should make use of, for example, the subordinate research institutes listed below that can perform fast-tracked analyses.
- The National Centre for Nuclear Research, which houses the Interdisciplinary Department of Energy Analysis, which creates, and updates energy models used to analyse Poland’s bottom-up energy transition;
- The Institute of Environmental Protection, which houses the National Centre for Emissions Management and an analytical team with economic modelling skills and tools at the Centre for Climate and Energy Analyses;
- The Energy Institute–National Research Institute, which specialises in research on modern energy technologies and publishes analyses on energy strategies.
Expert Council and transparency
The Minister of Climate should establish a Council on Energy and Climate Policy (or low-carbon transformation Expert Council) to strengthen the substantive work of the ministry, increase transparency of the process, and help build consensus around key proposals. Experts with proven professional experience, representing a variety of viewpoints and experience, should be invited to join the Council. The task of the team should be to offer input on assumptions and proposals, to resolve dilemmas. Council members should be required to follow the rules listed below:
1) Work within the framework of long-term goals previously agreed upon at the political level;
2) Maintain impartiality in proposing technological solutions;
3) Present constructive solutions to identified barriers.
The Ministry should establish a platform where stakeholders could be invited to consult proposals and exchange information at different stages of work, for example, during the setting of assumptions or double-monitoring whether previously set milestones are being met. At the same time, with internal data and analyses, the ministry will be able to conduct dialogue and defend its proposals against disinformation and hardline lobbying promoting particular interests at the expense of others.
Such an approach would be a new opening in the creation of public policy in Poland. To date, the preparation of strategic documents has left much to be desired.
By the end, a statutory, broad process of public and political consultation must be opened. The materials collected during the pre-consultation of the NECP and PEP, held in the summer of 2023, should also be used.
Poland, as the fifth-largest country in the EU and one that is in a difficult energy situation and not considering leaving the EU, deserves a reliably prepared and professionally implemented energy and climate policy. With the new year, the government, along with the political backing of parliament, should make strategic decisions regarding Poland’s low-carbon transformation. Only concrete and long-term measures will allow it to build the foundations for the development of a modern economy and a strong society. The process of creating strategic documents must be coherent, inclusive, and transparent, using the best knowledge and analytical tools, carried out in dialogue with stakeholders and the public. This way, the government will have a solid foundation for further reforms in the country and a much stronger voice in the upcoming negotiations for a new 2040 emissions reduction target in the European Union.
Date of publication:: 18 January 2024
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Tobiasz Adamczewski, Joanna Pandera
Cooperation: Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk, Aleksandra Dziadykiewicz