Climate ideals clash with coal realities at Polish-led U.N. talks
* Coal bosses say coal needed for now
* Big business seek to address investment risk
* Coking coal for steel seen as a strategic mineral
By Barbara Lewis
KATOWICE, Poland, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Delegates at U.N.
climate talks in the Polish city of Katowice point to the mining
museum next to the conference venue as the proper place for
coal, which provides 80 percent of the country's electricity.
Poland's decision to host the negotiations to revive the
2015 Paris agreement on phasing out fossil fuel has laid bare
the tension between high-minded goals and business realities.
A short drive from the conference venue, at the Silesian
region's dozen or so remaining mines, tonnes of freshly dug coal
thunder down shoots to be rail-roaded to power plants for
Coal bosses see a need to address climate risk, but say
Poland must use thermal coal for electricity until it has a
Silesia also produces coking coal, used in steel, and viewed
as a strategic mineral even by the European Union, which seeks
to be an environmental leader.
Poland's JSW, the European Union's largest coking
coal producer, is seeking to grow.
"The world has to tackle the increase of carbon dioxide
emissions, but I do not see a chance the world can live without
steel these days and there is not an easy solution to substitute
steel and substitute coking coal," CEO Daniel Ozon told Reuters.
Financial backing can be an issue for all forms of coal and
JSW has its eye on Chinese banks as international lenders are
For many Poles, coal mining symbolises national
State-dominated companies can look to a government striving
to win over an electorate divided between an older generation
that associates coal with a reliable income and a sense of
community, and youths engaged in climate protests.
As the demonstrators march, international business works to
keep shareholders on side.
One of the climate team from the world's biggest producer of
coking coal BHP was among business representatives
taking part in the side events accompanying the negotiations.
The U.N. talks have proved long and fractious, with
flash-points including a revolt by Saudi Arabia, Russia, the
United States and Kuwait against a major scientific report that
laid out the reasons to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees
"The real challenge is not whether it's 2 degrees or 1.5
degrees; it's that not enough is happening," Graham Winkelman,
BHP's practice lead on climate change, said in an interview.
BHP stands apart from other big miners with a goal to make
its own operations carbon neutral, in line with the Paris
agreement, by the second half of the century.
But just as governments have to work out practicalities, it
is also unclear how BHP can achieve its goals.
"There is no definitive path-way," Winkelman said, although
he repeated a frequent industry request for a carbon price to
help shift investment towards a greener technology.
Poland's aim is to share the challenges of bringing about a
"just transition", Polish Deputy Environment Minister Michal
Kurtyka, who presided over the talks, said.
As a graduate of Paris' elite Ecole Polytechnique, a
physicist, an economist and an engineer, his favoured solution
is electric vehicles. With fewer moving parts and less wasted
heat than internal combustion engines, he says they will help
even if they run on coal-fired power.
As a citizen of a country that switched in 1989 from "a
centrally planned to a market economy," Kurtyka has first-hand
experience of deep change.
"In my young days, growing up in Krakow, that was a
completely different city from now. At 8 p.m. the lights
switched off. You could not open the window because of air
pollution," he said.
In Katowice, some residents say they still can't let the air
in and are not confident that is about to change.
(Additional reporting by Anna Koper and Agnieszka Barteczko
Editing by Susan Fenton)
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