Seminar on “Poland before COP21 - Do we have enough energy to save climate?”


Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

16 June 2015

Paris, France


Ambassador, Ladies and Gentlemen,


I would like to thank the Polish Delegation for organising this meeting. We only have six months left before the Paris COP21, where we must strive to achieve a historic deal, so it is absolutely necessary that we intensify our debates about the right energy model for a brighter future.


Global CO2 emissions are currently still rising but we need to achieve a peak as soon as possible and start the journey down. By the end of the century, global emissions will need to be near zero in net terms, or even below, to achieve the stated goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Yet we are still not on a cost-effective pathway to achieve this goal, despite recent emissions reduction commitments in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), including those of the EU.


An agreement in Paris needs to provide a flexible international architecture that allows us to gradually increase our level of ambition. At the same time, we need to respect the diversity of national circumstances and actions needed to reach our collective, long-term climate objectives.


The scale of transformation needed by the end of the century is challenging. At COP21, governments will send a clear signal of intent. Beyond that, each country needs to think about its own pathway into this new zero carbon world that beckons. 


Not everyone will move at the same pace. For the least developed countries, whose prime considerations are energy access and poverty alleviation, CO2 emissions will increase for a longer period before peaking and falling.


But even in those countries, there is a huge scope for mitigation action that brings tangible benefits in terms of reduced pollution, health and quality of life in the cities. Let us not forget that climate risks will disproportionately affect the poor and vulnerable.


Time is of the essence. And the actions needed are plentiful.


Carbon pricing is vital but not enough on its own. At our Ministerial Council Meeting a few weeks ago, Ministers from OECD countries welcomed the report on Aligning Policies for a Low-Carbon Economy. This report both describes what we should be doing and what we should stop doing. And the latter is difficult when fossil fuels are hard-wired into our economic, social and political systems.


A critical issue for Poland is of course coal. There are numerous reasons why coal only has a place in our future energy systems if emissions are captured and sequestered securely for the long term. Let me provide a few: the IPCC tells us that we only have some 20-40 years of emissions at current rates before the carbon budget consistent with a 2 degree target is exhausted; coal is also roughly twice as emissions intensive compared to natural gas; in 2010 approximately 25,000 deaths in Poland were attributed to air pollution; and beyond this tragic human cost, there is also a significant economic cost which can be measured in billions of euros.


Investors are already taking action to confront this challenge. For example, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has already decided to divest from coal-intensive firms and in North America and Europe, regulations, carbon pricing and future emission targets have made new coal power too risky– unless it is fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS).


In becoming a less coal intensive nation, Poland possesses one major advantage that is not open to all countries and that is membership of the European Union. In this respect, a closer energy union does not only provide European countries with the opportunity to benefit from a wide range of clean energy options across an entire continent; it is also an important source of energy security. 


Ladies and Gentlemen, We urgently need to transit into a new, more sustainable growth model. While the challenges of making this transition are enormous, the risks of inaction are of a much greater magnitude. Severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts will mount.


Building on our excellent cooperation on the Environmental Performance Review of Poland launched in April, and on today’s discussion on the IEA Energy and Climate report, we stand ready to work with Poland and support the Polish government on this vitally important journey.


Thank you.



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