KONIN, Poland (Reuters) - Poland’s addiction to high-polluting coal contrasts sharply with its hosting of U.N. talks on a global climate treaty to promote clean energy, but its government says it is doing its best to break the habit.
Some 11,000 delegates are in Poland’s western city of Poznan for a December1-12 meeting which marks a halfway point in efforts to agree new climate goals in Copenhagen at the end of next year.
And the fact that one of Europe’s biggest lignite opencast mines, the Konin mine, lies in moon-like scenery just some 60 kilometers (40 miles) from Poznan highlights Poland’s public relations dilemma.
Poland depends on coal for around 95 percent of its rapidly growing electricity needs and much of that is lignite -- one of the most polluting forms of the fossil fuel. Warsaw is seeking exemptions from European Union plans to cut emissions.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that EU plans would drive some electricity power plants out of business. But he said Poland was committed to climate protection.
“We want to say and comfort all those who know and sense that this is a difficult challenge that we shall manage,” he told delegates in Poznan in a welcoming speech.
Out at Konin, the outlook is not so bright.
“The climate is being destroyed here. And some 200 citizens and another 400 farmers were forced away from their homes and land to make way for those massive holes in the ground where the lignite if being dug out,” said Magdalena Zowsik of Greenpeace.
Greenpeace established a camp to protest against the damage it says the Konin mine is doing to the climate, regional tourism and farming, and against the planned opening of new sites.
Environmentalists say new mines would drain surrounding groundwater and may seriously affect nearby lake Goplo -- home to rare wildlife and a legendary residence of one of Poland’s first kings.
“I was been born here and I just see less and less water in the lakes every year. Over the last 5 years the lake I live by now has lost 1.7 meters,” said Jozef Drzazgowski, leader of a group of locals opposing the mine expansion plans.
The Konin mine, which employs around 4,000 people, has repeatedly said it has all the necessary permits preventing any environmental damage, and will continue to buy land for the new extraction site.
“The four sites now operating drain an area 30 kilometers around. The new site will be located only 5 kilometers away from Goplo -- and it will not affect the water levels?” he asked.
A group of citizens of the Kleczewo town located close to the Konin mine protested on Wednesday against the new site, as tensions mount over a perceived choice between losing jobs either in mining, or else in tourism and farming.
The European Union has committed itself to getting 20 percent of renewable energy by 2020, but wind, solar or biomass energy is virtually non-existent in Poland. Poland is seeking exemptions from the goal ahead of an EU summit on December 11-12.
“India’s Mahatma Gandhi already said that first they will laugh at you, then they will criticize you and threaten you. I’ve gone through all this,” Drzazgowski said. “Now we’re only waiting for the victory.”
Editing by Gerard Wynn