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In Poland’s coal heartland, miners defend their jobs but imagine a greener future

Coal News - Published on Thu, 07 Dec 2017

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Climate Change News reported that Poland’s hard coal heartland. The people are proud of their industrial heritage but increasingly aware of its polluting legacy; torn between defending the jobs they know and creating a greener future. It is a tension that will come under the spotlight in December 2018, when regional centre Katowice hosts the annual UN climate change summit.

The Polish government has committed to keeping the coal industry alive.

Prime minister Beata Szyd?o herself the daughter of a Silesian miner said that “The Polish mining and power industry have good prospects.” in August at a mining event in Katowice. “We want to build the Polish power industry and economy based on a safe energy mix where hard coal and lignite will have a prominent place.”

Her Law and Justice Party positions itself as a champion of the country’s coal miners, which numbered nearly 100,000 in 2015, according to industry group Euracoal. The domestically produced fuel is seen as key to Poland’s energy security.

But state support comes at a cost: financial, environmental and political.

Polish hard coal is expensive. It costs USD 76 a tonne to dig out, according to the World Bank, compared to an international price of around USD 50. Mining companies are making unsustainable losses.

Last year, in a reform meant to alleviate the debt accrued, PiS transferred Kompania W?glowa’s 11 mines in Upper Silesia to a newly created company, Polska Grupa Górnicza , and had state utilities cover some of the financial losses. The least profitable mines were transferred to a restructuring company, with a view to closure.

A toxic smog settles on the region every winter. While locals tend to blame traffic, much of the air pollution comes from burning low-quality coal in household stoves for heating. Coal power stations add to the problem, causing 5,800 premature deaths a year across Poland, according to research by ClientEarth.

Mr Eugeniusz Gruchel, head of the ZZG trade union at Chwa?owice mine said that “We were told we will keep our jobs even if some mines close, but we are anyway worried that we could be fired in the future.” Mr Gruchel added that “People keep saying that miners make good money, but the reality is different: young miners coming to work here leave after one or two paychecks because they can make more elsewhere or abroad.”He added that “We should keep the young here, to work for us and for Poland.”

A wave of mine closures in the 1990s, which saw the number of mines in Poland reduced from around 70 to 30 (in 2014), came with no alternative development plan, meaning that the region’s towns evolved very differently.

Mr Wystyrk said that “Overall we don’t have high levels of unemployment in Upper Silesia, but we have pockets of it, where the mines were closed suddenly (in the 1990s) and this is where social problems are severe.” There’s a fear further closures will compound the problem.

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Posted By : Nanda Koijam on Thu, 07 Dec 2017
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