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

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.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie