Therefore, the Belchatow closure announcement is a milestone for better health protection for the people in Poland and beyond, and shows that there is a growing recognition that coal cannot have a place in a healthy energy future for Poland, or elsewhere. At the same time, there’s no reason for leaning back, as we have not reached our goal of a coal phase out in the EU by 2030 yet - a date that is scientifically proven to be needed to slow down the climate crisis.
Just Transition is a key consideration for Poland, where the majority of energy is still generated by coal power. Each year, this leads to up to EUR 7.5 billion in health costs. Emissions from the EU’s largest coal plant, Bełchatów, cause thousands of new cases of disease, hospitalizations and premature deaths. HEAL’s new publication presents the Just Transition discussions in Poland, and provides recommendations on how a healthy and just transformation can be achieved.
The phase-out of coal is inevitable, in view of coal’s contribution to climate change, but also because of the huge unpaid health bill associated with coal burning. Coal plants in Poland generate one of the highest health impacts from plants in the EU, with their emissions of air pollutants leading to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and the development of a number of diseases from respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous system problems and cancer. Most European countries have already recognized the need for change – already half of the coal-fired power plants in Europe have been closed since 2015, the year the landmark Paris Agreement was adopted.
Unfortunately Poland lags behind the coal phase out commitment. Still around 70% of electricity is generated from burning this raw material, and the government has not yet announced a (binding) phase-out date.
However, transition in the coal sector is happening, and up to EUR 4.4 billion are earmarked for Poland from the EU’s Just Transition Fund, for the transformation of mining regions. The preliminary analysis of the European Commission indicates that 3 areas in Poland could count on support: Eastern Greater Poland, Silesia and part of the Lower Silesian Voivodeship. Poland is also trying to include 3 additional regions in this process.
Currently, in Poland, Territorial Just Transition Plans are being developed and in public consultation, setting out how individual coal regions will move towards low-carbon economies.
HEAL’s new briefing proposes a number of actions that will help to implement the transformation in such a way that it is not only just, but also healthy.
From a health perspective, the first thing to do is to conduct a health impact assessment of all Just Transition decisions. Each investment should be assessed in terms of its potential impacts, harms and benefits to the health of the population. Next, HEAL proposes to make the implementation of projects conditional on the regions’ commitment to end coal by 2030, also in the context of burning coal in domestic stoves and boilers. In parallel, sustainable, low- and zero-carbon solutions with little public health impact, and energy efficiency should be developed and promoted. Moreover, during the Just Transition debate itself and during the implementation of investments in its scope, it is necessary to increase the involvement of health and medical organizations and individuals. Only the fulfillment of the above and other activities recommended in the HEAL publication will guarantee that the transformation will lead to the necessary improvement of the quality of the environment and public health in Poland.
Press release in Polish here