Poland, Hungary want cash before agreeing to EU climate target

Wagons loaded with coal at Towarowy station in the southern Polish coal mining town of Rybnik, as coal remains Poland's main source of energy (AFP Photo/Wojtek RADWANSKI) (AFP)

Warsaw (AFP) - Poland and Hungary on Friday said they were protecting their national economies by rejecting an EU bid for zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a goal another opposing country called "ecological hysteria".

EU leaders failed Thursday to set a target for so-called carbon neutrality by mid-century, amid opposition from coal-dependent Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the ambiguous position of Estonia which relies on oil shale, also a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Friday in Warsaw called for a "fair" transition to zero emissions as coal remains the main source of energy for Poland.

"We don't want a situation in which caring for the world's climate will happen at the expense of the Polish economy," Morawiecki said.

"Polish entrepreneurs cannot incur costs out of proportion with their energy consumption and the CO2 emissions they cause," he said, having earlier called for the European Union to offer a "detailed compensation package" for emissions reduction.

Hungary has adopted a similar position, insisting that targeting carbon neutrality by 2050 "would impose massive burdens on Hungarian industry."

Budapest said Friday it would be "unable to support" the EU's target "until we know how much funding the European Union is able to make available for the modernisation of industry".

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told reporters that while Budapest agrees with the 2050 target, it cannot commit to it until a plan to finance it is hammered out.

"So let's start to talk about money!" he said, adding that "we are open, we will negotiate".

In the Czech Republic, billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis slammed the efforts to set more stringent climate targets as "ecological hysteria", according to the Hospodarske Noviny business daily.

He suggested that the EU should also oblige non-members to stick to emissions targets.

- Russian coal -

European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister whose liberal politics clash with the national populism of Morawiecki's Law and Justice (PiS) party, voiced only muted criticism of Warsaw's move.

Tusk said Friday that Morawiecki could be "more sensitive" to the EU's climate target given Poland's growing reliance on Russian coal and the fact that coal-related smog claims thousands of Polish lives each year.

"There's no question, at least officially, about the Polish government blocking" the 2050 zero net greenhouse gas goal, Tusk said, adding that Warsaw only wanted "more time to think about all the consequences for the economy".

The reaction of Poland's opposition to Morawiecki's position was more pronounced.

"This is an incomprehensible and harmful decision for Poland and the EU," Jan Grabiec, spokesman for Civic Platform (PO), the main centrist opposition party, told AFP.

He acknowledged, however, that financial matters were "important", before stressing that the share of renewable energy in the Polish mix has been on the decline since 2016, and that the PiS government blocked the development of wind power while Russian coal imports are on the rise.

He also called the move "a political calculation, linked to the (general) election" slated for October.

Both the new progressive Spring party and the Polish Greens told AFP that the government's position was "against" Poland's interests.

In a gesture reminiscent of Swedish teenage climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, a 13-year-old Polish girl sat Friday on the sidewalk in front of the Polish parliament next to a poster calling for a "climate strike during the summer vacation".

"I'm here because politicians don't care about climate change, we continue to burn fossil fuels," Inga Zasowska said.