The environment - how much of a challenge is it to EU entry?

For many of the former Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe bringing environmental standards up to European Union levels is perhaps the greatest barrier to their long dreamed of entry into the Community, following decades of heavy industry and coal use and often little reporting of emissions and pollution levels.

Of the 12 accession countries, Poland’s eventual entry is perhaps the most significant and symbolic. It has by far the largest economy of the former Communist applicants and with 39 million inhabitants, has some 16 million more than the next most populated hopeful. Poland is also one of the six frontrunners for earliest entry, occurring in perhaps 2004, and environmentally is way ahead of laggards such as Romania, but behind some smaller applicants like Slovenia - the first to complete its environmental chapters with the EU.

Since the fall of Communism and the beginnings of transformation to a market economy in 1989, Polish GDP has grown by as much as 7% annually and the country has developed one of the most sophisticated approaches to environmental management in the region, according to a survey by the Joint Environmental Markets Unit (JEMU), a UK government initiative to increase environmental business. The report states that besides having a long history of environmental protection, Poland was the first regional country to develop a new environmental policy following democratic change and has around 700 environmental firms with a market value of more than US$ 2 billion. However, the nation still faces severe environmental problems, the agency warns.

Gareth Gardiner-Jones spoke to Grazyna Niesyto, a Senior Administrator at the Polish Ministry of the Environment and responsible for environmental relations with the European Union, to find out about Poland’s situation in relation to Community entry.

Could you summarise the situation of the Polish environment at present?

In general terms the state of the environment in Poland is improving on a continuous basis. The 1980s and 1990s saw a period of fundamental political, social and economic changes and at the same time it was the beginning of new approach to environmental issues. Due to efforts in the field of energy saving, modernisation of technology and the installation of air pollution control, the 2000s has brought a systematic decrease in CO2 emissions as well as a reduction of SO2 and NOX emissions. Particulate emissions to air have been halved and so have the total emissions of heavy metals.

Poland is considered as a country with scarce water resources and consumption has fallen since the 1990s due to rationing by consumers and suppliers. In total, 91.5% of the urban population and 35% of the rural population is supplied by water networks. Over the last 10 years there was a major drop in the quantity of untreated waste water discharged to water systems and an increase in the quantity of waste water subjected to biological treatment and enhanced removal of nitrogen and phosphorus. Currently there are about 5,000 wastewater treatment plants in operation in Poland, including about 1,500 urban wastewater treatment plants. In 1999, in Poland 998 landfill sites were in operation, 70 landfills were closed down and 67 landfills were opened up. New legal measures being adopted now will increase the efficiency of recycling and recovery.

Despite there being a prevailing opinion of Poland being a nation of high pollution, the country has very important biological diversity and large areas of almost untouched nature. In the northern part of Poland very large areas remain sparsely populated, maintaining the natural ecosystem s and preserved habitats of species rare in other countries of Europe. The preservation of the natural heritage is favoured by well-developed legal and administrative systems of nature conservation. Perhaps the best indicators of performance achieved from 1989 to 1998 are a 67% decrease in particulate emissions, a 48% decrease in sulphur dioxide emissions, a 28% decrease in NOX emissions and a 17% decrease in water consumption.

What are the main environmental problems and how are they being tackled?

Despite the obvious improvement of air quality, the increase in road transport with the growing economy has posed an increasing problem in Poland, but lead emissions have fallen due to improving fuel quality. Discharge of saline waters from deep coal mines, and in some areas insufficient development of urban wastewater collecting systems, still pose hazards to surface waters. Waste, in particular municipal waste, is now one of the biggest problems for the Polish public whose growing consumption in the 1990s was confronted with the backlogs in the construction of modern landfills and other waste disposal facilities. This resulted in water and soil pollution and the destruction of valuable landscapes. The increased number of municipal and industrial projects related to waste disposal plants is evidence of a growing concern over correct waste management among both companies and local governments.

Could you tell me a bit about any changes in ecological policy since the return to democracy?

The beginning of the 1990s resulted in some documents of fundamental importance for environmental protection in Poland. Parliament adopted the framework political document the National Environmental Policy, recognising sustained development as the main goal for the management of the environment. That document gave direction to all the actions in environmental protection in Poland throughout the decade. The constitution of Poland, adopted in 1997, ensures that the State ensures protection of the environment, according to the principles of sustainable development. At the end of 1990s it was recognised that new challenges faced by Poland, such as the market economy and EU accession, required new legislation. In 2000, the Second National Environmental Policy was adopted with the main objectives of developing macroeconomic and sectoral policies, improving the overall state of the environment, reducing the pressure of consumption, increasing public access to environmental information and its participation in decision making and compliance of Polish environmental policy within the main objectives of the EU’s Sixth Environmental Programme (see related story). The National Programme for Preparation for Membership and Negotiation Position of Poland in the environmental chapter are also very important documents setting out directions and benchmarks for environmental policy, paving the way to EU entry.

How is the environment protected in Poland at present? How successfully is Poland implementing EU environmental legislation, and is it much more stringent than that already in place?

The years 2000/2001 will no doubt mark a significant breakthrough in Poland’s environmental framework with us making long-awaited significant progress towards transposing EU environmental legislation. To this end the Government finally completed preparing a number of draft acts either relating directly to environmental issues or having significant environmental relevance. Some of the acts cover areas such as packaging and packaging waste and chemical substances where very little or no law at all existed before. Most of the draft acts, however, address the issues which have been already heavily regulated, and the main reason for changes is the obligation to fully transpose the acquis communitaire into the national legal framework. As in any other country with a mature and well developed environmental legal framework, in Poland, the requirements stemming from the acquis are expected to be included and harmonised to as great an extent as possible within the existing framework rather than adopted literally directive by directive. Despite the heavy workload in debating environmental draft laws, legislators have managed to complete the parliamentary procedure in relation to almost all draft acts. The new Environmental Protection Law of 27 March 2001 is meant to be the core of the new framework. It is a code-like, extensive piece of legislation aiming to implement 20 Directives. Other important new acts deal with water law, waste, nature conservation, packaging and packaging waste, chemical substances, GMOs, atomic energy and water supply and waste water disposal. These are some of a total 14 acts transposing EU legislation into the Polish legal system.

Is there a move to renewable energies and more sustainable transport and agriculture?

A growing use of renewable energy sources will facilitate the achievement of the national policy goals in terms of reducing emissions of the pollutants responsible for climatic change as well as acid-rain generating substances. Growth in the share of renewable energy sources in the domestic fuel and energy balance will also provide a significant step towards the implementation of the sustainable development principle. In accordance with the Polish Constitution, in 2000, we adopted a strategy for renewable energy, ensuring that in 2010, 7 % of energy will be generated by renewable sources increasing to 14% in 2020.

The transport sector will see the wide-spread introduction of ‘cleaner’ fuels, including bio-fuels, and ‘cleaner’ vehicles; a rationalisation of haulage by means of changes in the transport system, such as the development of railway freight facilities to limit transport of freight by road; and the development of public transport in cities, which will result in the abatement of haulage costs as well as reduction of air pollution. There will also be a major construction of ring roads around cities and the introduction of a pro-environmental tariff system.

In the agricultural sector practices which provide for better use of the biological potential of soil, while reducing negative environmental impact from both the fertilisers and weedkillers will be applied. There will also be the establishment of a foodstuff certification system, supporting mechanisms for agricultural production favouring the retention and growth of biodiversity, especially in protected areas and the introduction of mechanisms encouraging afforestation of poor-quality land, land sensitive to erosion and that in the vicinity of watercourses and water reservoirs.

Where would you place your environmental situation in comparison with other accession nations and with EU members?

It is difficult to compare the environmental situation in general with other countries without taking into account specific geographical, economic and legal conditions relevant to each country. What factors, parameters should be assessed to that end: emissions data, environmental quality data, the level of expenditure for investment projects? In my opinion the most objective assessment can be made on the basis of environmental indicators, such as on transport and energy, not only showing the current status, but the real progress made. The environmental situation in Poland is comparable with the EU average in this field despite still retaining the stereotyped negative image of the early 1980s.

What mechanisms are you using to EU achieve compliance, and are funds sufficient?

Since 1990, expenses for environmental protection have been continuously increasing in Poland. Expenditure increased from the level of some US$ 0.8 billion in 1990, which the equivalent of 0.6% of the year’s GDP, but which accounted for 2.4% of the all investment expenses in Poland, to the level of some US$ 2.6 billion in 1998, which amounted to 1.6% of GDP and over 8% of total investment expenses. In recent years, environmental expenditure has been concentrated mainly on water and air protection, while expenses for land protection have been decreased accounting for less than 10% of total amount dedicated to environmental protection. The system of financing investment projects in environmental protection in Poland is based on the companies’ and local governments’ own resources, commercial credits, grants and credits from environmental funds, Ecofund and foreign assistance.

The system of environmental funds in Poland has now four tiers, compared to three before administrative reform in 1999. At the top is the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management, the second layer at the provincial level consists of 16 different funds for environmental protection and water management, the third tier is at the poviat, or county level, which is the new self-governing administrative level, and the fourth is formed of municipal funds. The fund managers independently select projects for financing, as well as establishing the financing instruments, conditions for financing of projects and implementing the environmental policy. The funds collectively determine the transparency and efficiency of the environmental market. It is important to stress the role of the Eco-Fund, which is a Polish debt swap with the USA, Switzerland, France, Sweden and Italy, the assistance of the EU through its Phare Programme and now ISPA and SAPARD, as well as bilateral assistance. However, the main financial input will be done by Poland’s own taxpayers following the general principle - polluters pay.

Does it anger you when you see that other EU countries frequently do not meet their own environmental targets?

We are fully aware that many EU member states do not meet the requirements of EU legislation. It is stated in numerous reports published regularly by the European Commission on implementation of specific EU directives. On the one hand this situation is seen by the Polish public as unjustified to some extent as applicant countries are obliged to comply with EU requirements even before accession, while taking into account their transformation process, level of GDP and general quality of life. On the other hand, we understand that EU members encountering difficulties in implementation of EU standards would like to avoid similar problems after new countries join EU.

How easy is it to change public opinion for the necessary legislation to be introduced and does the average Pole think that it is so important to have all these new standards, or are they happy with the environment already?

Implementation of objectives related to the improvement of the state of the environment requires the approval of the general public. This is the purpose of environmental education conducted in schools, universities as well as by independent NGOs and mass media. In general, the average citizen is ready to accept EU standards, however, in individual cases the average person is more interested in keeping his job or not having to pay higher fees and taxes such as water prices, and packaging taxes.


acid rain | agriculture | air quality | CO2 | coal | opinion | packaging | population | transport | wastewater treatment


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