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Innovative Poland
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Environmental Ambition
   
Janusz Ostapiuk, Undersecretary of State at the Environment Ministry, talks to Elżbieta Wrzecionkowska about efforts to make Polish cities greener.

Polish President Andrzej Duda has signed a so-called anti-smog law that gives local government authorities new ways of combating air pollution. What powers do they now have?

I am very happy with the president’s decision. The law on environmental protection, or anti-smog law, authorizes local governments to ban the most obsolete coal-fired furnaces and the use of specific, harmful kinds of coal. The legislators also wanted to prevent air protection measures passed by province assemblies being challenged by administrative courts. One example is Cracow, where the authorities once banned households from using coal for heating, but the Małopolska province administrative court overruled the ban as unlawful. The amended environmental protection law empowers local authorities to impose such bans, and administrative courts will no longer be able to rescind these decisions.

Now that the president has signed the amended law, I think I should mention deputy Tadeusz Arkit, who proposed the changes and fought for them to be passed. That was a valuable parliamentary initiative.

I am positive that more thorough inspections of the technical condition of heating furnaces and the fuel used will result in better air quality in the long run. This will help improve the health of residents of the most polluted cities. I am confident it will improve people’s quality of life.

The amended law is also expected to reduce the number of noise barriers mounted in the middle of nowhere. At present, such barriers are not only obligatory in built-up areas, but also in vacant areas designated for later development. The result is that noise barriers frequently shield unpopulated areas such as fields.

Local governments have worked hard to improve air quality for years. What is air quality like in Polish cities at present?

When you look at data on air quality in Polish cities and cities abroad with more than 100,000 inhabitants, Poland ranks somewhere in the middle. European standards are met by several Polish cities, including Elblàg, Gdańsk, Gdynia and Koszalin. Most of them are located in northern Poland. Geographical location matters and the norms for suspended particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) and benzo(a)pyrene (B(a)P) are mainly exceeded in southern cities that are located in valleys, such as Cracow. Landform features aside, emissions are much harder to curb in those cities because of the way they are laid out. Local district authorities want to change things: they are drawing up plans for a low-emission economy, making changes to public transportation and promoting environmentally-friendly means of transportation. I by no means want to criticize those who don’t, though, as many local governments still have bigger problems to deal with, such as improvements in infrastructure and unemployment.

A lot has been achieved thanks to different EU programs and measures taken by Poland’s National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management. By 2020, we will have assigned around zl.12 billion for air quality protection and efforts to reduce pollution. The money will come from Province Funds for Environmental Protection and Water Management, European Economic Area (EEA) Grants, Norway Grants and energy producers.

This last source of funding is linked to the energy efficiency bill that is being discussed in parliament. I think that by 2020 many cities and towns in Poland stand a chance of becoming Smart Cities.

The Environment Ministry is holding several competitions for local governments, developers and designers with environmental protection as the central theme. What are the competitions meant to achieve?

There are different ways to make a city green. One is to educate the groups you have mentioned and to motivate them to act. Competitions encourage people to try harder. For that reason, the Environment Ministry decided several years ago to launch competitions for different target groups. The competitions include Green Cities: Toward the Future for local governments; Project Space for developers; and Eco Design for producers, distributors and service providers. The Green Cities competition has been the most popular one so far, with 200 cities and towns entering this year. This event is targeted at cities that can boast of innovative, green solutions. It was inspired by the European Green Capital concept introduced in 2008 by Jüri Ratas, the then mayor of Tallinn, Estonia. The idea is to improve the overall condition of the urban environment through the enlargement of green areas, inventive waste management solutions, sustainable transportation, noise reduction and other measures. The Green Cities competition was first held in July and August 2014 and the interest in it was immense right from the start. Apart from statuettes, the awards included four-day study trips to cities that have won the European Green Capital title. Winners of the Polish competition were presented with an opportunity to share ideas and good practices with cities such as Copenhagen (in Denmark), Bristol (in Britain), Vitoria-Gasteiz (in Spain) and Stockholm (in Sweden).

The competitions are just part of the Environment Ministry’s educational efforts. When you visit our website, you can also learn about a campaign called A House That Saves Me Money. The campaign is about energy efficiency and energy-efficient and passive construction, aiming to show how much an environmentally friendly house can save you on heating costs. This is part of a two-year project by the ministry called “Educational and Promotional Measures Related to Energy Efficiency and the Use of Renewable Energy, Including the Concept of Environmentally Friendly Houses.”

Article financed by the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management