By Alina Pogoda from the Polish Green Network
In Poland, hard coal is exploited in 21 mines, mostly in the Silesia region. In 1990, 388,000 people were employed in the hard coal sector. By 2020, this number had declined to 83,000. The Polish mines have been struggling to be profitable for years and their survival is highly dependent on government subsidies.
Between 1990 and 2019, mining absorbed 129 billion Polish złoty (€29 billion) in state subsidies. In 2019, Poland extracted 62 million tonnes of hard coal while imports amounted to 17 million tonnes. The costs of hard coal mining in Poland are the highest in the world. The main reason is that the Polish ‘black gold’ is extracted using a deep mining method which is much more expensive than opencast coal mining. Employers’ salaries, which are complemented with a wide range of bonuses such as jubilee awards, 13th and 14th wages, holiday vouchers, or school allowances, account for a large share of the costs.
For years, Polish mining unions have been promised by governments that coal exploitation would go on. As unionised workers form a big group of voters with the power and will to go on strike when needed, they have been able to force the government to raise their salaries. The Polish government, afraid of losing voters, does not want to admit that mines are going to be closed for economic reasons. Instead, they put all blame on the EU’s climate policy which they claim is ‘ideologically motivated’.
After the Polish Climate Ministry published a new draft energy policy in September 2020 which anticipates that coal will account for 11-28 percent of energy produced in 2040, trade unions announced preparations for strike, warning that “the government and European Union’s program will annihilate Silesia”. The government has not shown any willingness to an open discussion about the date of a coal phase-out and just transition.
Thanks to EU climate policy and the Just Transition Fund, the idea of just transition is known to small segments of local governments and climate activists, but there is a lack of understanding and willingness to establish a dialogue with those most impacted, i.e. the miners and representatives of the big energy corporations. However, the European emphasis on climate neutrality by 2050 may finally trigger an honest discussion about the future of Polish coal regions and new job opportunities for miners.