Poland authorities and mining unions said on Thursday that an agreement on a plan to restructure the country’s unprofitable and polluting coal industry is imminent, as hundreds of workers protesting the government’s intention to shut mines refused to return to the surface.
Some of the miners have been underground since Monday when the protest began. From two mines, the movement has expanded to 10. Other miners have staged shorter demonstrations across the country’s southern coal region, a spokesman for one of the unions told Reuters on Wednesday.
Poland is more dependent on coal than any other state in the European Union. The fossil fuel provides nearly 80% of its energy needs, with 8% of that electricity coming from a single coal mine, Turów.
The country is also the bloc’s only member that hasn’t committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
Since the 1990s, governments have grappled with the ailing domestic coal industry. All of them — including the present one — have ultimately failed to implement plans to restructure it.
“We believe it is impossible to implement these proposals without the full approval of trade unions,” Karol Manys, spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin, said in July after several hours of talks between government and mining union officials, the Daily Sun Express reported.
Fast forward two months and both the government and the unions now say they are ready to adopt the German restructuring model. The plan would require drafting a detailed schedule for gradual mine closures and adjusting output to power plants’ demand.
Germany’s plan to exit coal by 2038 was approved by the Parliament in July. The phase-out program includes financial compensation to mining companies, power plant operators, affected regions, and employees moving from coal to renewables as a power source.
President Andrzej Duda’s administration had originally set a goal to shut all coal mines by 2040. Poland had to suspend production at 12 state-run coal mines in June for three weeks because of the spread of COVID-19. Talks held with trade unions then showed the deadline needed to be adjusted to mitigate the effects on the local economy.
The government is now targeting 2050, while the unions want to keep coal mines running until 2060. “Maybe we can meet halfway?”, regional Solidarity union head Dominik Kolorz told Bloomberg late on Wednesday.
Negotiations with unions continue on Thursday and a final agreement on a timeline could be reached by the end of the week.