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Climate changes

Climate changes are currently one of the most important environmental, social and economic threats. Over the next decades these changes can contribute among others to the reduction of water resources, increase in the frequency and intensity of floods, melting of icebergs, erosion of soils, as well as intensification of such extreme phenomena as whirlwinds, hailstorms or frost  and heat waves.


A long-term purpose of the Convention is to ensure stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level which would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system. In order to prevent the threat to food production and to facilitate sustainable economic growth this level should be reached in the period sufficient for natural adaptation of ecosystems to climate changes.

in: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Changes


Climate system warming is visible in the growth of average global air temperature and ocean temperature (Fig. 6.1.), ubiquitous melting of snow and ice, as well as raising of the global mean sea level. Among 12 warmest years in the series of instrumental measurements of global temperature, carried out from mid-19th century, as many as 11 were recorded in the period 1995-2006, while average temperature in the period 1906-2005 increased by 0.74oC. It has been observed that inland areas get warmer faster than oceans, and the increase in temperature is higher at high latitudes of the northern hemisphere. Global sea level was increasing from 1961 onwards at an average rate of 1.8 mm annually, and 3.1 mm from 1993 as a result of thermal expansion, melting of icebergs and polar continental glaciers. Global warming also results in shrinking occurrence of snow and ice - satellite data show that average annual occurrence of sea ice in the Arctic decreased by 2.7% from 1978 over a decade, with a stronger fall in the summer period, ca. 7.4% per decade. Changes of other climatic elements are also visible, e.g. size and distribution of precipitation in Eastern North and South America or Northern Europe, length and intensity of heat or frost waves, or tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic.


Fig. 6.1. Changes of average global annual temperature in 1850-2008 presented as mean deviation from 1961-1990 (source: Climatic Research Unit)


An increase in temperature has also been visible in Poland - the last decade of the 20th century was particularly warm, but a growing trend of the average annual temperature is both visible at meteorological stations located in the suburbs, as well as at ones located in areas with limited anthropogenic impact, e.g. Śnieżka mountain, where the increase was  0.6oC/100 years. Similar increase in average annual temperature was recorded at stations situated at the Baltic sea, which have long measurement series (Gdańsk-Wrzeszcz, Hel and Koszalin), as well as at Warsaw Okęcie station (Fig. 6.2.). Comparison of the mean annual temperature for the whole area of Poland in the period 1991-2000 with reference to 1961-1990 (WMO reference period) showed that the last decade of the 20th century was  0.6oC warmer, and the largest increase in temperature occurred in winter months: 1.9oC in January and 1.5oC in February. In December temperature values were identical in comparable periods, but lower in October and November by 0.2oC and  0.7oC respectively. A similar tendency - bigger increase in temperature in winter than in summer - has been observed across Europe (Fig. 6.3.).

Fig. 6.2. Average annual air temperature at Warsaw Okęcie station in 1971-2008 (source: Institute of Meteorology and Water Management IMGW)

Fig. 6.3. Changes of average seasonal European (inland) temperature in 1850-2008 presented as mean deviation from 1850-1899 (source: EEA)


Changes in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases and aerosols, inland flora cover and solar radiation result in changes in energy balance of the climate system. Global emissions of greenhouse gasses increased by as much as 70% in 1970-2004 as a result of human activities, reaching 49 billion tons of CO2 equivalent, whereas the emission of CO2 itself, the main greenhouse gas, increased by 80% over the same period. Atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (379 ppm) and methane (1774 ppb) in 2005 significantly exceeded the natural scope of values occurring over the last 650 thousand years. Global increase in CO2 concentration is mainly caused by the use of fossil fuels and to a lesser extent by the changes in the land use forms. On the other hand, the observed increase in methane (CH4) concentrations results from the development of agriculture and fossil fuels burning, and the increasing concentration of nitrous oxide (N2O) is a derivative of agricultural activity.

The IPPC Fourth Assessment Report 2007 states with high certitude that it is mainly human activity carried out from 1750 that is the main reason behind the observed global warming. It needs pointing out here, that bigger concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere lead to the warming of Earth surface, while greater concentrations of aerosols result in its cooling. It is estimated that as a result of human economic activity from the pre-industrial era warming amounted on average to + 1.6 W/m2,  while at the same time changes in solar activity caused a small radiative forcing on average amounting to +0.12 W/m2.

According to scenarios that forecast future greenhouse gas emissions, further warming of 0.2oC per decade is expected in 21st century. With greenhouse gases maintained at the level from 2000 the foretasted warming would amount to 0.6oC in the period 2090-2099 vis-à-vis 1980-1999. In the case of further growth of emissions one may expect that in line with the model results the mean global temperature will grow from 1.8oC to 4.0oC in the last decade of 21st century.

Greenhouse gas emissions in Poland in 2008, excluding emissions from land use, land-use change and forestry, amounted to 394 million tons of CO2 equivalent and has not exceeded 400 million tonnes CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2 –equivalent) since 1999. In 1988 the emission was the highest and amounted to 565 Mt CO2 –equivalent. In 1988-1990 there was a major fall in the emissions to ca 454 Mt CO2 –equivalent, related to system- and economic changes, which resulted in the break-down of many energy-intensive and emission-intensive industry branches (Fig. 6.4.) However, it needs pointing out that in spite of dynamic economic growth in 1990-2007, which was related for example with 75% increase in GDP, the level of greenhouse gas emissions remained on a stable level of 30% below the level from 1988. It was possible as a result of large-scale implementation of modern technologies in the industry and introduction of many instruments, including legal ones, which promote low emission and energy saving solutions. The main greenhouse gas released in Poland is CO2 (82% of emissions). The majority of CO2 stems from burning of fuels (92%), both in stationary sources (e.g. power plants, combined heat and power generating plants), as well as mobile ones (transportation), while the remaining amount - more than 7% - is related to industrial processes (Fig. 6.5).

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Fig. 6.4. Greenhouse gas emissions in Poland in the years 1988-2008 presented as CO2 equivalent (source: EPI-NAETS)

Fig. 6.5. Structure of CO2 emissions in Poland in 2007 broken down into sectors (according to IPPC classification) (source: EPI-NAETS)


The expected climate changes will have a negative impact on many systems and sectors. That is why countries cooperate on an international level to limit the emissions of GHG by working out a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Changes and its Kyoto Protocol. Global response to climate changes stimulates the implementation of new policies, development of an international carbon market and establishment of new institutional mechanisms that support future activities aimed at prevention of climate changes.

Poland ratified the UNFCCC in 1994, and Kyoto Protocol to the Convention in 2002, obliging itself to reduce GHG emissions (CO2, CH4 and N2O) over 2008-2012 by 6% vis-à-vis emissions in 1988 base year. Poland adopted 1995 as base year for fluorinated industrial gases. The size of emission reductions vis-à-vis the base year differs depending on the country and ranges from 8% for EU, 7% for USA, 6% for Japan, Canada, Hungary and Poland. Poland and Ukraine have a possibility to stabilize emissions at the level of the base year, while Norway, Australia and Iceland have the possibility to increase emissions by 1%, 8% and 10% respectively. Countries can ensure reduction individually or jointly (like for example the European Union 15).

The European Community has used the opportunity of joint reduction. 15 Member States that constituted the Community back then (EU-15) jointly obliged themselves to reduce GHG by 8% between 1990 and the annual average of 2008-2012. However, the responsibility of individual Member States varies from 28% reduction for Luxembourg to 27% increase for Portugal. Decision on this matter was agreed and adopted in 2002 in the process of the so called burden sharing, under decision of the European Council 2002/358/EC of 25 April 2002 concerning the approval, on behalf of the European Community, of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the joint fulfilment commitments thereunder.

It needs pointing out that commitments concerning emission reductions apply exclusively to industrialized countries and countries with economy in transformation (this category included among others Poland due to the ongoing systemic and economic changes). Developing countries did not adopt any commitments under the Convention referring to the principle of no historic responsibility for the existing anthropogenic GHG emissions  and to the right to sovereign socio-economic development, necessary to improve welfare in those countries.

Two years before the start of the first obligation period under the Kyoto Protocol, emissions in the majority of countries with economy in transformation are much lower than the adopted commitments. Whereas the half of the EU-15 Member States release more GHG vis-à-vis their obligation (Fig. 6.6.). However, the EU-15 countries will try to meet their joint 8% reduction obligation according to the internal burden sharing. If joint reduction efforts towards meeting the Kyoto Protocol commitments are failed, the EU-15 countries will be held accountable individually in terms of the reduction targets set under a joint reduction obligation.

Fig. 6.6. State of implementation of individual commitments of EU Member States to reduce GHG emissions (CO2 equivalents) under the Kyoto Protocol - percentage data. Malta and Cyprus as countries not listed in Annex I to the convention and Annex B to the Kyoto Protocol do not have any reduction commitments (source: UNFCCC)

The main activities that support the efforts of countries aimed at reducing GHG emissions include primarily improved energy efficiency of the economy, promoting and implementing technologies that use renewable energy sources and capture carbon dioxide, activities aimed at limiting transport emissions, as well as promoting sustainable forms of waste management, agriculture and forestry. A governmental document that forms national environmental policy, including climate protection activities, is the national environmental policy for 2009-2012 and its 2016 outlook, adopted by the Sejm (lower chamber of the Parliament) on 22 May 2009. This document outlines the objectives, challenges and directions of actions, as well as the most important priorities of the Polish environmental policy for the next 4-8 years, including the national reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol.

A decisive element of the Polish energy policy until 2030, adopted by the Council of Ministers on 10 November 2009, that determines the limitation of emissions will involve launching highly efficient technologies for energy generation and transfer, including the modernization of current technologies. A very important element of the GHG reduction strategy involves stimulating an increased use of renewable energy sources in the energy industry. Another important element of the energy policy will involve increasing energy effectiveness of the economy, realized among other by the implementation of Directive 2006/32/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 April 2006 on energy end-use efficiency and energy services and repealing Council directive 93/76/EEC (Text with EEA relevance) as well as diversification of energy production structure through implementation of nuclear energy.

Other policies and activities carried out domestically in order to limit GHG emissions involve among others:

  • in transport - promotion and use of biofuels and promotion of "ecologically friendly" vehicles,
  • in construction - extending and modifying technical and construction provisions pertaining to the thermal protection of buildings in terms of permeation of heat through external partitions, performance of heating-, ventilation and air conditioning installations, as well as preparation of warm drinking water.
  • in agriculture - rationalization of the use of fertilizers, including nitrogen ones (a system of fertilizer consultancy has been introduced to help determine precise fertilizer doses), rationalization of energy management, including production of energy from biomass waste or pig slurry; dissemination of small dispersed sources of electrical energy,
  • in waste management - the national waste management plan until 2010 promotes activities aimed at preventing and minimising the generation of waste, ensuring their recovery (recycling), disposal and waste storage which is safe for human health and the environment.


Analysis of changes in GHG emissions with reference to GDP changes, as well as the primary energy consumption and electricity consumption shows that the economic growth which started in 1990 was accompanied by stabilization (until 1997) and then a fall in GHG emissions (Fig. 6.7.). Trends in the primary energy and electricity consumption are analogical to the course of GHG emissions, however the distance between emissions and primary energy consumption has been increasing from 1999, pointing out among others to a more effective energy use in the Polish economy.

Fig. 6.7. Changes in GHG emissions in Poland (in CO2 equivalents) compared with changes in the primary energy consumption, electricity consumption and GDP in 1990-2008 (1990 = 100%) (source: EPI-NAETS, CSO)

Due to a global character of the phenomenon, measures aimed at preventing climate changes can bring effects only as a result of joint activities of the whole international community. That is why counteracting climate changes is one of the priorities of the EU policy. EU Member States carry out versatile activities aimed at reducing GHG emissions, including ones aimed at  integrating climate-, air protection- and energy policy through the implementation of an energy and climate package. As a member of the European Union Poland participates in the implementation of a whole range of these measures, and counteracting climate changes is one of the most important objectives of Polish environmental policy. In 1988 - 2008 Poland managed to reduce GHG emissions by ca 30%, which is much above the 6% reduction level required under the Kyoto Protocol. This will allow to meet and exceed the national reduction target set forth under the Protocol within the required deadline until the end of 2012. At the same time, as the effects of climate changes are irreversible, it will be necessary for the international community, including Poland, to undertake adaptation measures in the years to come.

In March 2007 the European Council - when defining the measures that should be undertaken to reduce GHG after 2012 - adopted the assumptions to the so called  climate and energy package, including assumption on the joint emission reduction by 20% until 2020 vis-à-vis 1990. Final package was adopted in December 2008. At the same time, in its standing the European Commission declared that it is ready to increase the joint reduction target until 2020 to 30%, on condition that comparable commitments are undertaken by the remaining developed countries and provided that the most advanced developing countries (China, India, Brazil, Republic of South Africa, Korean Republic, Indonesia, Mexico) declare a 15-30% limitation of emissions vis-à-vis the currently foretasted emissions.

The principles for implementation of the aforementioned EU reduction obligation were outlined  in the EU ETS directive and in the decision of the European Parliament and Council No 2009/406/EC dated 23 April 2009 on the effort of Member States to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to meet the Community's greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments up to 2020 (non-ETS decision). In order to implement the Community commitment pertaining to GHG emission reduction by at least 20% below the levels from 1990 in a cost-effective way, one should reduce the amount of emission allowances granted to those installations by 21% below their emission levels in 2005