Climate activist goes for CEO job at Poland's top coal polluter

Greenpeace activist applies for top role at PGE with the goal of eliminating coal from power production by 2030.

    Poland relies heavily on polluting coal for some 80 percent of its energy needs and PGE's Belchatow coal-fired power plant is Europe's single biggest emitter of CO2 [File: Kacper Pempel/Reuters]
    Poland relies heavily on polluting coal for some 80 percent of its energy needs and PGE's Belchatow coal-fired power plant is Europe's single biggest emitter of CO2 [File: Kacper Pempel/Reuters]

    Climate activists are no stranger to using the mechanisms of corporate governance to try and force firms to embrace greener business plans. On Thursday, environmental activist group Greenpeace signalled it is turbo-charging that approach by setting its sights on the top of the C-suite.

    Greenpeace activist, Pawel Szypulski, said he is applying for the chief executive job at Poland's biggest utility PGE, with the goal of eliminating polluting coal from the group's power production by 2030.

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    Poland relies heavily on polluting coal for some 80 percent of its energy needs. State-run PGE generates electricity mostly from burning lignite (known as brown coal) and hard coal. Though the group plans to invest more in renewable sources of energy - mostly in offshore wind - Szypulski says it is not enough.

    "One can no longer continue the business as if there was no climate crisis. I will apply for the job today," Szypulski told reporters in the front of PGE headquarters in Warsaw.

    He added that PGE, which owns Europe's biggest coal plant in Belchatow, central Poland, should intensify investment in renewable sources because burning coal weighs on its financial results as carbon emission costs rise. 

    Szypulski said his first decisions as PGE CEO would be to scrap the company's plan to invest in a new open-pit mine lignite mine in Zloczew. The project, which is expected to cost up to $3.8bn, has invited blowback from villages and farms that would be negatively impacted by the mine.

    Crucially, it would also extend the life of Belchatow power station - which currently provides some 20 percent of Poland's electricity and is the largest single CO2 emitter in Europe - beyond 2030.

    Instead, Szypulsk plans to prepare a detailed strategy for phasing out coal by the end of this decade.

    His plans are in line with recommendations from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a United States-based think-tank, included in its latest report on PGE.

    "Lignite today accounts for more than half of all PGE's generation, but we find it is loss-making on average long before 2030 under a higher carbon price outlook. Even under a low-carbon price outlook, lignite will only account for a small fraction of PGE profits after 2025," the IEEFA report says.

    The deadline for applying for the PGE CEO job and other roles in the management board is February 14.

    Top jobs in Poland's state-run companies are generally considered to be politicised.

    PGE's current CEO, Henryk Baranowski, was appointed in March 2016. Before that, he was a deputy minister in the Law and Justice (PiS) government.

    "I am convinced that I meet the criteria for the job," Szypulski said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies