UN delegates began the second week of crucial climate talks in Warsaw on Monday, just as the World Coal Association controversial conference got underway down the road.
Environmental campaigners have claimed that Poland’s decision to co-host the International Coal and Climate Summit is evidence that the government is more committed to coal than to efforts to prevent climate change.
On Monday morning, Greenpeace activists unfurled a banner on the front of Poland’s Ministry of Economy building, where the two-day event is being held. It read, “Who rules Poland? Coal industry or the people?”
“The fact that the Coal and Climate Summit is being held under the auspices of the Polish government is further proof that it cares neither for the wellbeing of its citizens nor the environment”, said Michal Wilczynski, the ex-deputy minister of the environment in Poland.
In her keynote address at the event, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Christina Figueres told representatives of the industry “that coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake.”
She stressed that she was not calling for the immediate disappearance of coal, and admitted that to do so would ignore the energy needs of growing populations around the world.
However, she pointed to the findings of the IPCC’s AR5 report, which showed that much of the world’s coal reserves must remain in the ground if devastating global warming is to be avoided.
“There is no doubt that the science is a clarion call for the rapid transformation of the coal industry”, she said, adding that it was a clarion call the industry could not afford to ignore.
“Like any other industry, you have a fiduciary responsibility to your workforce and your shareholders. Like any other industry, you are subject to the major political, economic and social shifts of our time.
“And by now it should be abundantly clear that further capital expenditures on coal can go ahead only if they are compatible with the 2C limit.”
A report by the World Coal Association, developed with the Polish Economy Ministry, advocates the use of “high-efficiency low-emissions coal combustion technologies” as a way of cleaning up coal.
However, a group of scientists responded by refuting these claims, saying that the continued development of new coal power plants would undermine emission reduction efforts.
Prof PR Shukla of the Indian Institute of Management warned, “We are not saying there is no future for coal but that unabated coal combustion is not compatible with staying below the 2C limit, if we like it or not.”