The future of Polish coal passes through the United States

In Poland, in the Silesia region, coal is still known as “black gold”. The mines have shaped the landscape and made Poland the main producer of coal in the European Union. Half a million workers depend on this industry, including more than 80,000 miners.

Marcin Lichota, 45, has been mining coal for the past decade. And like many other miners, he is concerned for his future as the government has promised to close all the country’s mines by 2049.

“Everyone is afraid and they wonder if they will be able to continue working here until retirement. Everyone would like to know what is going to happen so they can make plans and build a future. They want to stop feeling threatened year after year, as before, fearing that the mines close, wondering what will happen next, “he explains.

The European Union is pressuring Poland to take action and drastically reduce coal production. And this pressure could intensify with the arrival of Joe Biden to the White House, with a greener agenda than that of his predecessor.

But union leader Boguslaw Hutekeste believes that the handover of the US presidency is mostly symbolic and will have little practical effect. “In a way, we felt better and liked it when Donald Trump clearly said that we should preserve coal. However, neither Trump nor Biden will change the EU’s targets of reducing CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030 and to be climate neutral in 2050 “, says this Solidarnosc member.

Poland’s dependence on coal comes at a cost. Coal-based power plants, which generate 75% of electricity, and also heating are a source of air pollution and environmental degradation. 33 of the 50 most polluted cities in the EU are in Poland.

And activists are confident that the new American administration will help them change this. “It will be very important to improve Polish climate policy, to be much more ambitious and to achieve the objectives of the Paris agreement more quickly,” says Patryk Bialas.

Some analysts point out that Biden’s influence on Polish politics will depend on his ability to collaborate with the ruling Law and Justice party. A party that he publicly accused of undermining the rule of law.

“You see what is happening, from Belarus to Poland to Hungary, totalitarian regimes are emerging in the world,” Biden said.

Tomasz Pugacewicz, professor of international relations at Jagiellonian University, expects the Biden administration to be more critical. “Perhaps at first they will use diplomatic channels to try to influence the Polish government, but if this fails, they could move on to public statements to pressure the current government,” he says.

The United States also has other motivations for wanting Poland to give up coal. Warsaw seems interested in implanting nuclear power plants of American technology.

This, combined with the EU’s climate neutrality targets, will almost certainly spell the end of Polish coal before mid-century.

But for the transition to be successful, the thousands of jobs at stake cannot be forgotten.