Last update: 14 06 2010
The issues of carbon dioxide and climate change
What were the positions of Visegrad countries at the COP15 Summit in Copanhagen in December 2009 and what is the perception of citizens in Hungary, Czech republic, Slovakia and Poland about the climate change? All four countries backs common EU position on CO2, but they differ each other, when it comes to way how to reach the goals.
- COP15 in Copenhagen
In December 2009, long conference on climate change in Copenhagen did not bring an agreement which would set the global targets in reducing CO2 emissions. The EU member states were among the most active supporters for setting out challenging targets and seriously working on combating climate change. But what was the position of the Visegrad countries at the Summit?
The Copenhagen agreement can be marked as a disappointment for the EU leaders, who were eager to achieve much more than just an agreement that a substantive reduction of global producing should be attained.
One of the more positive outcomes of the agreement is the decision for additional financial help for climate projects in the period 2010- 2012 and developed countries also agreed to commonly mobilize 69, 8 billion euro per year until 2020 for the developing countries. Moreover the states have agreed on creating a Copenhagen green climate fund for countering and reducing deforestation. On the other hand, the conference has clearly shown the ineffective and inadequate methodology of organizing UN conferences, which should be reformed according to the leader of the EP delegation, Jo Leinen.
According to the latest survey of STEM company (took place at the beginning of December 2009), 80% of Czechs believe that global warming occurs. Three quarters of them say that warming is caused by human factor while 25% insist that climate changes are caused rather by natural processes than by mankind. Only 6% of Czechs do not believe in global warming at all. What is important, this poll shows there is not a significant difference in opinions of people of different age, political orientation and earnings. Three quarters of Czechs support cutting CO2 emissions, STEM poll revealed.
The Czech Republic produced 151 Mt CO2 (equivalent) in 2007 which means 14,2 tones per head (35% more than European average, 7 times more than India). At the beginning of 1990s a big drop in emissions (from 196 Mt CO2) occurred due to the collapse of socialist economy and the modernization of plants. However, since 1995 emissions are more or less steady. Speaking only about EU ETS participants, they produced 80 Mt CO2 in 2008 while receiving 86 million allowances for free (both numbers gradually decrease from year to year).
Regarding emission cuts goals, the Czech Republic has to obey EU common position and intends to decrease emissions by 35-40% by 2020 (compared to 1990 level). Long term goals are not clear yet – the Ministry of Industry mentions 50% cut by 2050 while the Ministry of Environment suggests 80-95% cut which is in line with IPCC figures.
The Czech position for COP15 was completely in line with the EU – it was agreed before the beginning of the Copenhagen conference and there was practically no space for national divergence.
Regarding the public perception of COP15, the Ministry of Environment and green NGOs were very optimistic although Czech media stressed that chances for strong agreement are very low. “Headlines of Czech media for no good reason anticipate that leaders in Copenhagen adopt only empty declaration,” Czech minister for environment Jan Dusík complained before the conference pointing out that he was “still rather optimistic”.
After the conference he spoke about “missed chance for reaching ambitious agreement” as well as people from NGOs and Czech politicians from main parties: ČSSD and ODS. However, Czech leading parties has never put too much emphasis on fighting climate change which is marginal topic for them even at present.
Speaking about prospects of reaching the deal which would replace Kyoto, main Czech expert on climate change Jan Pretel expressed scepticism. “If we look at 20 weeks of high level negotiation during last 2 years, which yielded no result, I can not imagine that Copenhagen Accord would lead into concrete agreement within year,” Pretel told EurActiv.
Czech president Václav Klaus, who doubts that humans contribute to global warming, is afraid that Copenhagen failure means only “Pyrrhic victory” because “those who believe in global warming caused by mankind do not listen to any reasonable arguments”. Nevertheless, he believes that some “craziest ideas” will not be realized due to the failure.
The Czech Republic promised to send 12 milion euros over the next three years to help developing countries to bear the costs of mitigation and adaptation.
Support scheme for renewables is a main instrument regarding the “greening economy” in the Czech Republic. The share of renewables, which play a vital role in fighting climate change, is still marginal. They contributed to final energy consumption by 6,1% in 2005 and only 6,5% of electricity was produced from renewables in the middle of 2009 in the Czech Republic making it harder to reach 8% share in electricity by 2010 (this goal is only „indicative“) and 13% share in final consumption by 2020. However, experts say that current renewables support scheme is badly designed because it favours the expansion of solar power which is not efficient enough under Czech local weather conditions.
While Hungarian public opinion did not treat the problem of climate change that serious compared with other European countries before, according to the first country-wide climate research in the country in 2006 40% of the population listed climate change as one of the most important national problems and 53% as one of the most important global problems. It signals that the Hungarians are becoming increasingly interested and sensitive about the topic. They consider inland inundation and floods as the biggest danger, and among man-made threats to the environment they listed deforestation, road and airway traffic, transport and incinerating. 36% of the people answering would make a material sacrifice to decrease his contribution to the problem, using energy-saver tools and solutions. 49% finds tackling local problems very urgent, 42% urgent. The forces against action about climate change are mainly connected to the economy and energy lobbies. These were also the groups that have hindered the adoption of a Climate Bill in February, the second in Europe, after the UK. The text of the bill received many critics from the green side also, but it was a clear civil initiative, representing the bottom-up approach of green movements.
According to the Kyoto Protocol Hungary should decrease its greenhouse gas emission by 6% in the period between 2008-12 compared to the 1985-87 level, but since then Hungary’s socialist heavy industry devolved almost completely. The total emission in 2006 was 78,6 million tons of CO2, which means 32% decrease from the 1985-87 level. The emission is less than 8 tons per capita, which seems low in European comparison. Though the country’s emission decreased from 2005 to 2006 by 2%, there is no clear trend, in the last 10 years it is fluctuating around 79 million.
During the Cop15 negotiations Hungary supported the EU goal of cutting emissions by 20% or 30% if other countries make a comparable effort. The emission trading scheme and other flexibility mechanisms like the Clean Development Mechanism are widely criticised by environmentalist, but Hungary insists on keeping the emission trading scheme along with 8 other Central European countries which have extra quotas to sell. In 2009 Gordon Bajnai, former Prime Minister said that Hungary will support the developing countries with 6 million euros in 3 years in their efforts about climate change.
On the last day of the previous parliamentary assembly it was clear that they can not agree on a decision about the framework of climate change. The proposal was handed in by Katalin Szili from the socialist party and the loudest opponent was György Podolák, the chairman of the economic committee. Many say it is a battle between the energy lobby and the green lobby.
According to the ‘Green Economy in Hungary’ research paper commissioned by the Ministry for National Development and Economy the areas to start with to green the Hungarian economy are the energy, savings (resources, energy, water, waste) and employment.
The strategic action plan’s goal to improve the local economy by imitating and modelling the natural cycles while simultaneously increasing employment. Regarding the employment, the satisfaction of sustainable demand is stressed, not achieving profit. The second goal is to embed the sustainable development strategy in decisions and economic policy.
The instruments used for this are six-fold. Firstly, the tax system and assistance policy should be greened by not supporting growth that reproduces social injustice and thus working against sustainability. Secondly, just access to the resources should be provided. Thirdly, the agriculture, land policy and rural development should be restructured, and the food production economy should be sustainably improved. Fourthly, they would use the instrument of a renewable energy program, which greens the economy at the same time. Fifthly, assistance and loans should be provided for national and local SMEs that are linked to the abovementioned areas to improve production and create jobs. Sixthly, R+D and innovation should be supported for the resource and energy-poor economy linked to the above, that will create a new structure.
“Poland will not pretend that it is as rich and engaged in the process of reduction of the CO2 emissions as Great Britain or Sweden are. But it will not be a laggard neither” - said Donald Tusk, the Polish Prime Minister, during the EU summit in the run up of the Copenhagen climate change conference.
- CO2 emissions in Poland – facts and opinions
Poland in one of the most polluting EU countries. In 2009 it emitted to atmosphere 204.1 million tones of CO2 which puts it at the second place in the EU, behind Estonia. This is due to the fact that 94% of total electricity in Poland is generated by coal power plants and coal, with 800 kg of CO2 released per MWH2, is the most polluting energy source.
Nevertheless, the experts say that Poland is capable of reducing its CO2 emissions by up to 30% by 2030. The McKinsey report evaluates 125 methods, like for example development of nuclear and renewable energy sector, CO2 capture and storage technologies or introduction of energy-saving cars, aiming at reduction of harmful substances emission. However, the positive effects can be achieved only at a price of 0.9% of GDP a year, or 2.5 billion euro annually.
Notwithstanding those huge costs, 84% of Polish society believes that climate change is a genuine threat which should be actively countered. and therefore the EU should play a leading role in combating the climate change (75%). What is more, according to the opinion poll issued in November 2009 over two thirds declares the readiness to pay more in order to have a clean energy and maintains that climate change should be tackled even if it meant economic slowdown. Curiously, the last view runs contrary to the Polish government negotiations stand.
- Poland will not pay for EU's (over)ambition
During the Brussels European Summit in the end of October 2009 Poland, together with a group of other poorer EU countries, threatened to veto a common EU mandate for the Copenhagen conference. They questioned a project of division of the EU's financial help for the developing countries among the Member States according to their responsibility for pollution, or a Member State's share in the EU overall CO2 emission. Instead, Tusk proposed division on the grounds of country's wealth measured in its part in the EU's GDP. The difference between the two solutions is clear: Poland is responsible for 8% of EU CO2 emission, whereas its share in EU's GDP is 3%. Finally, an ambiguous agreement, saying that each country will contribute accordingly to its “both responsibility for global emissions and ability to pay”, was reached.
Although the Copenhagen conference did not lead to a legally binding conclusions Donald Tusk came back from Denmark quite satisfied. “The Polish delegation went to Denmark in order to make sure that the ambitions of the others are not achieved at our expense. And this is done” - Polish Prime Minister said. Poland promised to contribute 60 million euro as its part of a total 7.2 billion euro EU financial help for the poorest counties in the years 2010-2012. Poland will earn this money by selling the rights to carbon emission according to the Emissions Trading Scheme.
- Let the climate wait
The governmental satisfaction is not shared my the Climate Coalition, a group of the Polish NGOs operating within the field of climate change and environment. “Contrary to what the politicians say, the Copenhagen agreement is a political failure and will not save us from the disastrous effects of the global warming” - says the Climate Coalition's official post-Copenhagen declaration. “The Copenhagen agreement was meant to be a decision securing the safe development of the World. It turned out, however, that the global leaders imagine they can make the climate wait. Meanwhile, the human tragedies are the price for every minute of delay. What happened in Copenhagen is a sentence for hundreds of millions of people. The consequences will be taken by all of us, but above all by the poorest countries population” - adds Andrzej Kassenberg from the Institute for Eco-development.
- Polish Green Economy?
Poland still lags behind its European partners with regard to the renewable energy usage. Its share it the country's total energy balance is barely 2.5%. The Polish Strategy of Renewable Power Industry Development sets the goal of 14% of energy to originate from the renewable sources by 2020, the aim that is less ambitious that the European goal of 20%. The main source of renewable energy in Poland is biomass, which has 98% share in the total renewable energy market. Polish government is working as well on the development of the nuclear energy, but the energy from the national nuclear power plants will not be available until 2020.
According to the report on CO2 emissions from fuel combustion from the International energy agency, Slovakia has produced 36,8 millions of tons of CO2 in 2007. The most significant amount of greenhouse gases in Slovakia comes from burning and transformation of fossil fuels (75 - 80 %). When it comes to the question of using energy from renewable sources, Slovakia has set it target at 6% of the total energy consumption until 2010. Biofuels should account for 5,57 % until 2010. In 2007 the energy from renewable sources represented 3,5 % of the total consumption of primary energy in Slovak republic. Hydro energy is the only source of renewable energy which has a significant share on the total energy consumption.
- Public opinion
The attitude of Slovak citizens towards questions related to climate change is similar to those in the whole European Union. According to the Eurobarometer on European attitudes towards climate change, 41 % of Slovak citizens think that climate change is the most serious problem facing the world currently. When asked how serious the issue of climate change is at the moment, 66% of Slovaks believe that it is very serious and 76 % of the respondents do not believe that the issue has been exaggerated. When it comes to blaming who is not doing enough to fight climate change, 59 % blame the national government. However, when asked how much more would they be prepared to pay for energy which emits less greenhouse gases 24% would not be willing to do so at all, 28% would pay 1 - 5 % more and 3 0% do not know.
- Slovakia's emissions trading scandal
During 2009 Slovakia experienced a scandal related to emission trading. Not only did Slovakia sell its emissions at a price deep under the average selling price at the time of the trade, but also the real existence of the company InterBlue Group to which Slovakia sold its emissions is questioned. According to available data, Slovakia lost approximately 75 mil. eur by selling its emissions under the conditions of the contract signed with InterBlue. The whole case was intensively investigated by Slovak journalists and lead to serious findings. The findings also led to removing two ministers of environment and constant change of opinions and arguments of the prime minister and other responsible politicians. At first, they have denounced the whole case.
Currently InterBlue Group should still pay Slovakia EUR 15 million, but the company has no contact person and the contract is not valid anymore.
- Slovakia at COP15 in Copenhagen
The Slovak position at the the Copenhagen Summit on climate change in December 2009 was corresponding with the official position of the European Union. Slovakia as part of the EU has offered a reduction target of 30% in case that other developed and developing countries will also participate at an appropriate level in the global reduction. If the other countries will not be willing to participate at reducing the emissions, Slovakia has set its target at 20% until 2020, compared to the level in 1990. Concerning the question of the financial assistance of Slovakia for developing countries to counter the climate changes in the so called “fast start financing”, Slovakia will contribute with 9 million euro.
A key priority for Slovakia was to achieve a legally binding outcome during the negotiations in Copenhagen, which would guarantee environmental integrity, fairness and a chance to achieve a global target on CO2. According to Helena Princová, a member of the Slovak delegation in Copenhagen and a contact person for UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) working at the section on climate change and trading with emission quotas at the Ministry of environment, this is only possible by connecting at the moment individual negotiations: “Long- term Cooperative Action” (LCA) and Kyoto Protocol (KP), whereas key elements of the KP should be preserved.
Slovakia also supported specific proposals for a financial architecture which would include more accurate rules for informing and verifying, in order to achieve support for national initiatives (NAMAs - Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Measures) aimed at reducing the effects of the changed climate. Furthermore Slovakia supported the initiative aimed at reforming the already existing and introduce new flexible mechanisms countering climate change for example methodology for land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector and also management of the surplus of Kyoto emission permissions (AAUs – Assigned Amount Units).
In line with the national interests of Slovakia, the representatives at the Copenhagen Summit on Climate change were closely monitoring and participating at discussions on the following issues; reaching a final decision on the outcomes of the Ad Hoc Working Group (AWG) on the Kyoto Protocol, which has proposed an amendment of the Protocol and the AWG LCA with its proposal of a protocol for UNFCCC.
The final decision should lead to meeting the generally set target goals. Slovakia was also highly supportive of creating a mechanism which would finance the climate change politics, initiatives and adaptations after the year 2012. Another move towards meeting the targets and goals would be to enable the transfer of unused Kyoto emission permissions into the next binding periods. In order for the LULUCF to function well, the Slovak representatives were in favor of creating a methodology for assigning emissions and captures in the LULUCF sector. Slovakia has supported the ambition of the EU to stand up more clearly with its “red lines” after the texts of the AWG LCA and AWG KP chairmen were distributed.
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