Poland is decarbonising but challenges remain

Poland is not known as a climate champion but it does hold ambitions to decarbonise its economy. Electric mobility will be one of the pillars of this transition. Although the goal set in 2016 to have one million electric cars by 2025 may not be realistic, the achievements so far are impressive. 2020 saw significant increases in the number of electric cars and buses, but with the country struggling to fight air pollution and simultaneously maintain economic growth, we still await a breakthrough in the transport sector.

Adrian Grycuk, CC BY-SA 3.0 PL, via Wikimedia Commons

In the first three-quarters of 2020 the number of new electric vehicles increased beyond expectations with twice the number of passenger electric cars compared to the previous year. The numbers could have been better but many environmentally conscious buyers chose to buy hybrid cars, which were granted tax cuts in 2020. The changes in the bus market were even more impressive with over 150 electric city buses registered in the first three-quarters of 2020, a three-fold increase on last year.

In 2021 we are likely to see faster growth of the electric mobility sector. The government announced it would finally introduce a support system for purchasing battery electric cars and vans. This has been promised for a few years already and Poland today is the only EU country without such a system. At the same time a new support scheme for municipalities for purchasing electric buses will start in 2021.

The government also proposed to amend the electric mobility law. The draft includes introducing compulsory zero-emission zones, support for car sharing, increasing taxation of company cars (other than electric) and improving conditions for investment in charging infrastructure. These proposals go in the right direction but aren’t bold enough. T&E’s Polish member organisations came up with a more ambitious proposal.

When it comes to the EV supply chain LG Chem, the biggest battery cell manufacturer in Europe, announced this year that they would increase capacity from 15 to 65 GWh annually. With a number of important players in the battery industry investing in the country, Poland is quickly becoming a hub for battery manufacturing in the EU.

There was also progress in the energy sector with 2.2 GW of new photovoltaic capacity being added to the grid. In doing so, the country more than doubled its solar capacity in 2020. The overall share of renewables reached 14%, and the share of coal went down to 75%. With wind and sun ever cheaper and EU ETS prices making coal increasingly uncompetitive, the question is increasingly when, rather than whether, Poland will phase out coal. The Polish government’s reluctant acceptance of the -55% climate goal in exchange for significant financial support is another sign of changes to come.

A major challenge in the car sector remains the polluting second-hand cars imported from other EU member states. Since entering the EU in 2004, the number of passenger cars on Polish roads more than doubled from 12 million to 25 million. Most of these additions were second-hand. In 2020, despite the number of imported cars going down by almost 20%, their average age was at an all-time high. 

T&E and its Polish member FPPE proposed a tax reform in 2020, introducing a bonus-malus scheme where cars are taxed according to their environmental performance. Regrettably there was little political will to introduce such changes due to fears that cutting off access to affordable cars would be unpopular and cost jobs. This highlights the challenges ahead if things are to change more quickly. Poland, unfortunately, still has the worst air pollution in Europe.

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