Poland’s climate policy – burying its head in the sand in the face of the dangers associated with climate change – has one very striking feature. We can observe an astonishing agreement between players with conflicting interests.
The government of Donald Tusk is supported in this matter both by the PKPP Lewiatan (the employers’ association, and a member of BUSINESSEUROPE), and by the trade union Solidarno??. This trio is defending energy generation based on fossil fuels, both in Poland and at the European level.
At the same time we can see more and more climate refugees at the borders of our continent, fleeing from the Global South, where the climate crisis hits the hardest. But changes are also affecting our country, and their effects will only intensify. Even today we are witnessing in Poland more frequent tornados, more intense storms, more devastating floods and droughts. The effects of climate change observed in daily life will manifest themselves for example through higher food prices. Our children are going to be hit even harder.
The trade unions have their reasons to be cautious about climate policies. We have regularly observed how the roller of modernisation viciously crushed human lives in our country. But even with their heads in the sand they should be more cautious when the government, defending “Polish coal”, has no plan B. There will eventually come a time when the emissions of greenhouse gases will be decreased. If we will have to do it rapidly, without the much-needed infrastructure and strategy, we may end up with another round of shock therapy, which will make the draconian reforms of Leszek Balcerowicz or Jerzy Buzek look like mild changes in retrospect.
Thinking about green energy as an investment in our future is not compatible with the short-term business cycle. It is the government that should see the importance of such action, but it is precisely the government that is failing.
Environmental movements, trade unions and green business have a common interest in making the government pursue a more responsible path. This may be the time to come together, sit at the same table and try to create together a scenario for a transition that would be ecologically sustainable, economically feasible and socially just. The starting points of the discussion will probably be miles apart from one another – it is plain to see the different perspectives: that “business is business” (even if it is green), that the workers will be keen on defending their jobs, and that the environmentalists want polluting chimneys to be shut down as soon as possible, come what may. But as soon as we can understand these obstacles, it will be possible to break the gridlock and meet halfway.
Greens Need to Engage with Social Partners
Environmental NGOs face problems not only with the Polish government, but also with public opinion. We all love green energy, but when it comes to the discussion on a specific mine or power plant, the vision of an economy based on “Polish coal” becomes harder to let go of. The ecological awareness in Poland is not only one of the lowest in Europe, but is also constantly declining. Green business is quite lonely amongst other employers – it is obvious that most other enterprises are interested in cheap energy without thinking about the external costs it may generate. Thinking about green energy as an investment in our future is not compatible with the short-term business cycle. It is the government that should see the importance of such action, but it is precisely the government that is failing. The environmentalists and green business would gain an important supporter if they would hear out the labour movement.
Trade unionists need to choose if they want to defend the status quo in the energy sector, that is unsustainable in the long run, or to guarantee a better position of workers in the economy of the future. Only they can keep an eye on this transformation (by actively taking part in it), so that the ambitious climate policy will mean not only reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and investment in new, advanced technologies, but also a just transition and defending workers’ rights.
Why is it so hard to undermine the current climate policies of the Polish government – even if they mean risking the long term security of Poles? The main problem is that it likes to portrait its policies as the “raison d’ État” supported by “everyone”. To change that perception we need not only the scattered voices of those who have already committed themselves to saving the climate. We need a broader alliance, and unexpected allies on our side.