As negotiators from around the world reached the end of the United Nations climate change conference (COP 23) in Bonn, Polish coal trader Weglokoks was preparing to receive a 73,616-ton shipment of coal from the United States.
While one analyst described the deal as economic, not political, it’s still a perverse transaction between the country set to host next year’s COP and the only nation with plans to withdraw from the Paris agreement, at just the moment when a global alliance is forming to eliminate coal-fired electricity generation.
“The deal seems to make sense for Weglokoks,” said analyst Aleksander Sniegocki of the Warsaw-based Wise Europa think tank. “The Polish mining sector has failed to meet its production target and Weglokoks saw a shortfall of the fuel available for export, both in terms of quantity and quality.”
Deutsche Welle notes that state mining giant PGG “is struggling to meet demand from its major clients—mostly state-run listed utilities, after cost-cutting led to lower investment”. The German news agency says most Polish mines are in a similar state, even though the government is planning to open three new coal-fired generating stations.
While coal currently represents 84% of the country’s energy mix, supplies are falling “partly for geological reasons, in particular the increasingly difficult availability of hard coal deposits, but also due to the need for modernization of existing coal mines in order to improve their competitiveness, and rising public opposition to the construction of new mines,” explained Pawel Mikusek of the Warsaw-based Forum Energii.
Weglokoks, meanwhile, was planning to use the U.S. import to honour existing contracts by reselling it to customers in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Germany, and Austria. “The solution was to import high-quality U.S. fuel and mix it with Polish coal,” Sniegocki said, “then to re-export it in line with existing contracts. This has attracted interest from Polish companies, and now Weglokoks may also import U.S. coal for domestic consumers.”
DW notes that Poland, the European Union’s biggest coal user, “is at odds with Brussels over the coal-related targets laid down in the 2015 Paris Accord on climate change,” and is already striking a defensive tone as it prepares to host next year’s UN climate conference: Prime Minister Beata Szydlo told European Parliamentarians she would “throw it back at them” if they chose to criticize her country’s practices during COP 24, or at next month’s EU summit.