By Max Clarke

While challenging, Poland can transition to a low-emissions economy as successfully as it underwent transition to a market economy in the early 1990s, according to the new World Bank report, Transition to a Low-Emissions Economy in Poland, launched today in Warsaw.

The report is part of the World Bank’s series of low-carbon growth studies. Poland’s greenhouse gas emissions are not large by global standards, constituting just one percent of the total. Moreover, its per capita emissions now stand similar to the EU average, at ten tons of emissions per capita, a reflection of the sharply reduced emissions that accompanied the transition to a market economy in the 1990s. However, given its lower income levels, Poland’s economy remains today among the least emissions-efficient in the EU. Over the next few decades, Poland appears to face a particularly difficult test: catching up to EU income levels while becoming less dependent on abundant domestic coal for energy needs.

The international agreement on climate change that is expected to eventually supersede the Kyoto Protocol and, more immediately, compliance with EU energy and climate policies, pose policy challenges for Poland. The EU 20-20-20 package requires Poland’s energy-intensive sectors, covered by the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, to contribute to the EU-wide target of a 21 percent reduction (compared with 2005) while allowing Poland’s other sectors’ emissions to increase by only 14 percent until 2020.

“We deliberately use the word ‘transition’ to indicate how comprehensive, cross-sectoral, long-lasting, and challenging this process of moving to a low-emissions economy is,” said Erika Jorgensen, Economic Adviser for the World Bank’s Europe and Central Asia Region and leading author of the report. “Still, we think this process should be much less challenging than the transition from central planning to a market economy that Poland went through in the early 1990s.”

Jorgensen added, “Of course, we need to be aware of the starting point: Poland is a European and global outlier with more than 90 percent of its electricity generated from locally-abundant coal. So, on the one hand, the starting point for transition towards a low-emissions economy is unfavorable, but on the other hand, the package of available abatement options is quite broad ― about 120 technical options are found to be reasonable possibilities for reducing emissions in Poland, ranging from on-shore wind power and biogas to more efficient new residential buildings and retrofitting of existing commercial buildings. These changes reach across sectors ― the energy sector is central, but transport, manufacturing, and energy end-use must also be part of the solution.”

If Poland were to take no action (the “business-as-usual scenario”), the models developed in the Transition to a Low-Emissions Economy in Poland report suggest that overall greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 will stand roughly 20 percent above 2005 levels, while 2030 levels will be 30 to 40 percent higher.