Poland says virus fallout makes it tough to hit EU climate goal

FILE PHOTO: Smoke and steam billows from Belchatow Power Station, Europe's largest coal-fired power plant operated by PGE Group, at night near Belchatow, Poland December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Poland, which relies heavily on coal-fired power stations, will find it even more difficult to achieve the European Union's climate goals because of the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on the economy and companies, the government said on Wednesday.

Poland is the only EU nation that has yet to commit to the bloc's target of driving down net emissions of greenhouse gases to zero by 2050, the centrepiece of the European Commission's Green Deal.

The EU executive proposed laws to achieve the net zero goal this month but, since then, the rapidly spreading coronavirus has prompted sweeping measures across the bloc that have upended businesses and hammered the economic outlook.

"As a consequence of this crisis our economies will be weaker, companies will not have enough funds to invest, completion of some important energy projects may be delayed or even suspended," Poland's climate ministry told Reuters.

"These are real problems that we will be facing soon and achievement of our climate goals will be even more difficult because of them," it said in a written response to questions.

Poland has already said the EU should scrap its emissions trading scheme or exempt Poland from the scheme.

Some diplomats in Brussels have signalled the need to rethink climate plans because of the economic turmoil.

"We simply don't have the money to do everything," an EU diplomat said, referring to the risk that the bloc's Green Deal was at risk because of the economic impact of the virus.

Poland, which employs roughly half of the 237,000 people who work in the coal industry across the EU, could face a big bill from efforts to decarbonise, European Commission data indicates.

The bloc has offered to set aside 7.5 billion euros from its next long-term budget to help emissions-intensive regions make the shift, with Poland offered the biggest share.

The EU has also said some regions could be allowed to miss the 2050 target if others achieved net zero emissions early.

The bloc had hoped to win support from all 27 member states for its 2050 goal at a June summit, although that meeting could now be overtaken by the coronavirus fallout.

"Maybe it will be less on Green Deal but more on trying to restart the economies," a senior EU diplomat said. "We cannot just continue with the plans and programmes we had so far. They were developed for a world without coronavirus."

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Edmund Blair)

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