Thanks to coal, Poland has the second most polluted air after Bulgaria and more than 44,000 premature deaths a year have been attributed to smog in Gdansk, Krakow and Warsaw. In coming decades, the challenge for Poland will be to reduce coal’s share in electricity generation from around 80% to zero by 2040.
A combination of factors, among them energy security concerns, economics and the power of the coal mining unions, have ensured government support for coal. For decades, burning hard and lignite coal has been a cornerstone of Poland’s policy of self-sufficiency in the electricity generation. Coal had the merit of minimising exposure to Russia’s Gazprom and the interruption of gas supplies to central and Eastern Europe in 2008, 2009 and 2014. Poland is the European Union’s largest coal producer, and its mining directly employs around 100,000 people.
Miners leaving the Knurow mine after a night shift at Knurow in the southern Polish mining region (afp.com)
Energy transition in Poland
The 2015 election showed the first signs of waning support for coal usage. Grassroots environmental activism and an anti-smog campaign have gained traction.