Global Climate change and environmental issues are a growing concern worldwide. Despite efforts to improve conditions and prevent irreversible damage of the planet, the road to recovery is long. In Poland, pollutants, deforestation and lack of clean energy pose a threat to its ecosystem. However, the country may be turning over a new leaf and taking a stand to create a sustainable environment. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki declared that tackling environmental issues will be on of his government’s priorities. „Air, wate and land belong not only to us, but they also belong to future generation, and the state in which we leave these resources to our grandchildren will determine our legacy,” Morawiecki told parliament in December.
Air alert in effect
According to the World Health Organization, in the European Region alone, exposure to particulate matter (PM) decreases the life expectancy of every person by an averange of almost 1 year. A 2016 WHO report revealed that out the 50 Eurpoean cities most affected by smog, 33 are in Poland. The organisation estimates that around 50,000 Poles die every year due to illness caused by air pollution.
The Ministry of Environment, responsible for environmental elements of the energy sector, including carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gaz (GHG) emissions, said measures are being implemented. In the statement, the ministry said: „In the long-term perspective, we will Focus on reducing the so-called ‘low emissions’ phenomenon – emissions from very small, local boiler plants, dispersed individual combusion sources and means of transportation.” The Ministry also claims it will allocate approximately 10bn zł by 2020 to suport efforts to combat the smog problem and promote clean air initiatives. The plan of attack is to regulate and finance the termal modernisation of buildings. The main problems are that residents of single-family hauses use low-grade coal, have poorly insulated structures or have poor quality furnaces. Starting in July 2018, only boilers that meet the highest emission standards can be purchased and the regulation also restricts the installation of emergency grates in boilers which are usually used to incinerate municipal waste. In addition, under the Environmental Protection Law Act, local authorities will be allowed to inspect private homes and issue fines for burning unauthorized materials.
Kraków, a city that has struggled for years with its air-quality reputation, has now created an ambitious cleanair programme and is implementing an ever growing numer of anti-smog initiatives, including subsidised wholesale replacements of coal-fired heaters to environmentally-friendly ones, up to 6000 households a year. Some say regulation is not enought – education and awareness is equually important. This is why, with the suport of Kraków City Hall, the Kraków O2 initiatives was developed. The community Facebook page contains daily updates, facts, figures, research and information about the air quality in Kraków, available both in Polish and English. By posting and sharing content across multiple platforms, Kraków O2 invites foreigners living and working in Kraków to take part in the discussion. It also actively engages both national and local media, as well as multinational firms based in Kraków, to collectively help raise environmental awareness. Strategic communication expert, Łukasz Cioch, said the goal od Kraków O2 is as simple as to inspire the city to breathe much cleaner air. Cioch confirmed that coal heaters are the main source of winter pollution in major cities, as much as in small towns. He adds that the problem is particularly acute in smaller municipalities, where lack of awareness remains a very important challenge. While some of the big cities have become very active and transparent about the problem in the last few years, many of the small towns, facing comparatively higher pollution levels in winter, are not even aware of the gravity of the problem.
In the past, when electricity and gas prices went up, sulphur-rich, low-grade coal become a cheaper alternative. „This is why people think that it’s a good idea to use it, often unaware of the demage it causes,” he said. „Often, they don’t really seem to care what comes out of their chimneys.” This is where the awareness part kicks in. Some people develop a „father to son syndrome,” throwing rubbish into their heaters because that’s what their fathers did as a carelessly convenient routine, said Cioch. A lot of people still indulge this routine, without giving it much thought. To make tchem really understand the implications, they need a fresh, convincing perspective in their actions, one that appeals to both emotions and reason. By creating informative videos and sharing information from air quality maps and control stations, including live footage of smoke from little chimneys covering half the town, inhabitants may think twice before burning anything more than standard coal.
Adding to the mix
Poland is a coal country. Production of primary energy is mainly based on fosil flues and coal covers 50% od the fuel share, with oil at 26% and gas a share of 15%, according to the International Energy Agency. Jarosław Wajer, Partner at EY Poland said, „Lignit eis the cheapest fuel in Poland, but unfortunately it’s not very environmentally friendly.” The biggest problem in Poland is the price of electricity. Electricity is generated primarily (80%) by coal. Gas is twice as expensive as coal and power plants cannot be economically sustainable without suport from subsidies or long term Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) signed with a third party.
From what Wajer can see, he doesn’t expect the sector will have any major problems this year, despite the fact that more and more investors are announcing they are no longer investing in coal not just in Poland but worldwide.