Coal Companies Are Sponsoring a Major Climate Conference in Poland Because This Is Our World Now

Illustration for article titled Coal Companies Are Sponsoring a Major Climate Conference in Poland Because This Is Our World Now
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The world is set to meet in Poland next week to talk about how it can improve on the Paris Agreement and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The best way to do that is end the use of fossil fuels, so naturally the conference’s hosts have announced that coal companies will be partners.


The United Nations climate talks are hosted by a different country every year in a different locale. Last year’s talks were hosted by Fiji, which set in motion a series of discussions to ratchet up global ambition to combat climate change. Fiji is set to hand the gavel to Poland next week in Katowice, a small city in the heart of coal country.

On Tuesday, the Polish environmental minister announced that the state-owned coal company along with energy companies PGE and Tauron—both of which lean heavily on coal to produce power—would be partners with the conference. In comparison, BNP Paribas, a bank that is divesting from oil and gas, Iberdrola S.A., a clean energy investor, were among the partners when Fiji hosted the talks.

With climate talks at a turning point, having coal companies act as a partner is a bit like the NRA sponsoring a trauma surgeon meeting or Philip Morris partnering with lung cancer researchers. Coal is among the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet, and its use plays a huge role in causing climate change. At the moment, clean coal is but a pipe dream.

But the move does make sense if you’re Poland, which gets a whopping 78 percent of its power from coal and is the world’s ninth-largest coal producer. That makes it one of the least carbon-efficient economies in the European Union, according to the World Bank. The most charitable read is that Poland wants coal companies at the table to discuss a just transition, which Poland has put on the docket for the climate talks. But they’d likely show up anyways, and having them be official partners still stretches credibility about how seriously Poland is taking the talks.

Though Poland announced plans to reduce that to 60 percent by 2030 ahead of the conference, that’s hardly the type of ambition needed to address climate change. Global carbon emissions will have to decline 45 percent by 2030 and steeply thereafter in order to keep global warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. Anything higher than that and small islands will essentially become uninhabitable, coral will all but disappear, and more powerful heatwaves will cook large swaths of the planet and create widespread suffering.

That’s why the most vulnerable nations in the world hosted a virtual climate summit in the run up to the Poland meeting and are pushing for more ambitious targets. It’s also what makes hosting the talks in coal-dependent Poland so odd. Next year’s talks are set to be in Brazil, where the ultra-ring wing president-elect wants to mow down the carbon-sequestering rainforest so maybe we need to rethink who gets to host these talks more broadly.


Update 11:47 a.m. ET: Brazil has announced it will no longer be holding next year’s climate conference. Everything is going great. Just great.

Managing editor at Earther, writing about climate change, environmental justice, and, occasionally, my cat.