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Global Climate Change - Polish coal

Must jobs go to cut greenhouse gases?

by Jan  van der Made

Article published on the 2009-11-18 Latest update 2009-12-04 15:52 TU

Water cooling facility at Budryk mine in Poland, 2009 (Photo: Jan van der Made/RFI)

Water cooling facility at Budryk mine in Poland, 2009
(Photo: Jan van der Made/RFI)

Coal-mining has a less-than-glowing reputation in climate-conscious circles. Fossil fuels have long been identified as one of the main producers of the green-house effect-producing CO2. But Poland shows the problems faced by coal-producing countries if have to kick the carbon habit.

Saving Poland's mining sector after anti-privatisation strikes last year, and maintaining it as an economically viable enterprise, won’t stop international criticism of Poland's CO2 emissions.

Ninety-five per cent of the country’s energy production is dependent on coal and burning the fossil fuel makes Poland one of Europe’s biggest polluters.

But Jerzei Markowski, a former minister in charge of mining rejects the criticism.

“Poland was one of the first countries which signed the Kyoto Protocol. And this is an important target for us. Now we are reducing CO2 emissions in Poland. And, at this moment, it is only a financial problem. It isn’t a technological problem. We know how to do it.”

So it’s about money. Poland wants to swap credits earned by technology preventing methane emissions for the right to continue with its coal-driven CO2 emissions.

Mining companies argue that they do what they can to preserve nature.

“The methods of producing coal haven’t changed much over the last years," says Piotr Chmiel, managing director of the Budryk coal mine. "It’s a matter of getting it from the field, and transporting it to the surface. So there’s not much more to improve there.

"But we work all the time with the local community and try to minimise the effects of the surface of the earth. We do plant trees. The methane which is released is used in powerplants, so it’s not released into the air but is captured and used inside.”

Water cooling facility at Budryk mine in Poland, 2009 (Photo: Jan van der Made/RFI)

Water cooling facility at Budryk mine in Poland, 2009
(Photo: Jan van der Made/RFI)

If it’s left up to Polish miners and politicians, coal is here to stay. There are guaranteed coal reserves for the next 120 years and proposed alternatives, notably the building of Poland's first nuclear reactor by the year 2012, won’t make many fans of green energy happy, either.

There is a labour-related issue too.

Polish coal mining has been under heavy pressure to privatise. Strikes last year in the Budryk mine and rising coal prices led to a compromise solution.

Now, Piotr a miner, says workers feel their jobs are safe,

"There are voices in favour of privatisation and against. I think it’s 50-50. That means that there’s no ground for a big decision like that. So everything will stay as it was, I am not afraid for my job. But it’s too early to say what’s going to happen in the future.”

But is there a future for in a greenhouse-gas-reduced world?

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