Poland’s EU budget commissioner has been forced to recant after he claimed climate change was exaggerated and argued that overambitious EU CO2 emissions targets would hurt his country’s economy.
Janusz Lewandowski, the EU budget commissioner, was accused by green campaigners and MEPs of climate change “denial” because he questioned the science of global warming.
Poland is reliant on coal-fired power stations for up to 90 per cent of its electricity and the former Communist bloc country last week blocked an EU attempt to increase a target to cut CO2 emissions from 20 to 30 per cent.
The row over Polish opposition to stricter climate change targets, described as a “dark day for Europe” by Chris Huhne, the Environment Secretary, has overshadowed Poland’s six-month turn at the EU’s rotating presidency which began on Friday.
In an interview with the Novy Przemysl magazine, Mr Lewandowski argued the EU’s policy of increasing greenhouse gas reduction targets would be a “disaster” for Poland, which is still rebuilding its economy from the backwardness of the Soviet era.
“There is a view breaking through that the theory of coal-generated power as the main culprit of global warming is seriously in doubt,” he said.
“Moreover, more and more often there is a question mark put over global warming as such.”
Green campaign groups and an alliance of MEPs described the commissioner’s comments as “terrifying” because, it was claimed he was seeking to “deny the overwhelming evidence of climate change”.
“The commissioner should fully explain himself,” Joris den Blanken a Greenpeace spokesman told the EurActiv website. “If not, the consequences for his role in the European Commission should be considered.”
Following a week of increasingly shrill calls from the European Parliament and NGOs for him to recant his views or face disciplinary sanctions, Mr Lewandowski made a humiliating climb down.
“In order to clarify misunderstandings,” he said in a statement. “I acknowledge the fact that the overwhelming majority of scientific studies confirm the phenomenon of global warming.”
Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, told The Daily Telegraph, that criticism of his country for not accepting new more stringent targets was unfair.
“God gave us coal and before we develop our shale gas deposits we will have to rely on electricity generation from coal, and the changing of an energy mix is something takes time,” he said.
“If others want to do it now, we welcome it but we have come to the limit. Poland is relatively poor country with a lot of coal so don’t expect us to be the leader on this issue.”
Martin Callanan MEP, the leader of the European Conservatives, who does not dispute climate change, said he was accused of “denial” too after speaking out against higher CO2 targets.
“Any dissenting voice is treated as equivalent to Holocaust denial. To compare not supporting an EU policy to the extermination of six million Jews is crazy and offensive,” he said. “Climate change, wherever you stand, is a legitimate subject of debate.”