Poland to Act on Pollution Catastrophe
Warsaw is developing a new plan by exploring options: to cut greenhouse gas emissions, to save money, and to save lives.
While much of Europe legislatively prioritizes environmental concerns and climate-friendly policies, Poland has refused to face its ecological catastrophe. Poland has the fifth highest greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, and contains 33 out of 50 of the most polluted cities in Europe, according to the World Health Organization. In 2012, approximately 45,000 Poles died due to particulate matter (PM) in the air. Recently, around 50,000 lives are lost per year due to air pollution.
At the end of February, the EU Court of Justice ruled that Poland had breached air pollution standards. Specifically, Poland has repeatedly disregarded the daily and annual limits on particulate matter (PM) in the air; PM10 is a particulate that is less than 10 micrometers, which can cause harm when inhaled. Between 2007 and 2015 the quantity of PM10 in Poland was higher above EU regulatory standards.
Poland’s issues stem from outdated heating infrastructure, heavy traffic, and a dependence on coal power. Poland is now exploring new policies to deal with these issues after years of avoidance. In 2015, Poland’s veto prevented the EU from ratifying an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as a 28-country bloc. Then again in 2016, Poland passed a law hindering wind energy development. These actions have frustrated fellow EU member states.
By 2050, Poland’s new policies plan to cut emissions from the power sector, which is the predominant consumer of coal.
Poland’s Prime Minister also released a “Stop Smog” program which will run in 22 of the 33 most polluted cities to encourage households to cut coal heating. It provides subsidies for modernizing heating. The goal is to transfer 15% of energy to renewable sources by 2020.
The private sector is also partnering with the government. This week, Flytronic is demonstrating a new drone technology that authorities targeted at improving the efficiency of environmental law. Currently, a significant portion of the pollutants come from citizens burning waste in their heaters against Polish law. Such a law is difficult to enforce. The new drone is designed to pinpoint particulates of waste matter and locate their origins. This will provide authorities with the information needed for levy fines on non compliant citizens.
If Poland fails to improve upon its current standards, the EU Court of Justice threatens to bring another case against Warsaw and to levy hefty fines. Other EU countries are frustrated with Poland’s lethargy on these matters.
Poland’s slow movement in renewable energy development in the past is suspected to be a result of the government's loyalty to the coal industry. Poland is politically tied to the coal industry, which historically has meant energy independence from Russia. As the coal industry declines, these interests may subside.
New political interests are surfacing in the wake of this decline. Protests have been led by GreenPeace Poland. One protestor told Financial Times: “The decision makers put the interests of the coal lobby ahead of the health of Poles. We urge the government to finally address the issue in a proper manner.”
In the coming months the Polish government is expected to detail its policies, paving the way for increased efficiency, compliance with European standards, and most vitally, protection of its citizenry.