The government gives priority to the fight for clean air

31.10.2018. Warszawa. Jadwiga Emilewicz, Minister Przedsiebiorczosci i Technologii. Fot. Robert Gardzinski/Fotorzepa

Solving the smog problem requires awareness of its scale and effects on health and life.

As many as 36 towns and cities out of 50 most polluted in Europe are located in Poland, according to the latest World Health Organization ranking. This is a worse result than in 2016, but mainly due to the greater number of locations monitored in terms of air quality. Recently you have expressed your hope that in 10 years’ time the infamous list will only include 10 such locations thanks to the „Clean Air” programme. Will there be more controlled sites?

Jadwiga Emilewicz: Solving the problem of smog requires awareness of its scale and effects on our health and life and system activities.

That is why we are working on making sure that there are as many measuring stations as possible. It is not only the full-size ones, i.e. the most expensive and requiring many permits. Together with social partners we are also looking for cheaper and more affordable solutions, so that as many Polish municipalities can use air quality meters as possible.

For the time being, in many places waste lands in furnaces and poisons everyone.

Unfortunately, this circuit is now closed in our lungs and hearts.

Therefore, regardless of legislative solutions such as the introduction of quality standards for solid fuels and boilers or the government programme „Clean Air”, educational measures are also needed.

The awareness of the fact that burning PET bottles or clothes in ovens shortens the life of all of us must increase.

For years, social organizations have been alarming about the effects of smog – about 45 thousand premature deaths per year in Poland. On the other hand, the EY analysis on the costs of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease shows that we spend directly about 450 million PLN per year on its treatment, and indirectly even 850 million PLN.

Our August report, which is the result of several months of work, confirms what social organizations have been talking about for years.

We do not want to frighten anyone, but we are showing the real problem and the consequences of fatal air quality. These are not only economic costs resulting from a greater number of days of absence from work, but above all social costs associated with miscarriages.

That is why the government gives priority to the fight for clean air. Local politicians should actively work to improve air quality in their municipalities and perhaps consider introducing zero- and low-emission zones. Although it may be a burdensome ban on drivers to take their children to the city centre, it is a decision on the importance of the health of these children.

The introduction of quality standards for solid fuels and boilers for combustion of these fuels was accompanied by protests of entrepreneurs. Among the arguments they mentioned higher costs for people.

Implementation of the thermal upgrading programme in households qualified as energy-poor will consume PLN 1.2 billion by 2024. However, in the longer time perspective this expenditure will pay off.

If we replace old boilers, connect houses to system heat and insulate them, we will reduce the demand for energy, which will translate into lower bills. A measurable outcome of this will be the avoidance of the cost of construction of two heat and power plants and a significant decrease in carbon dioxide emissions.

Countries are to strive for a closed-loop economy model. What is the profit and loss account for Poland? General estimates suggest an increase in the value of the world economy by 4.5 trillion dollars by 2030, and without the implementation of the HICP, Europe may lose 1.8 trillion euro in this perspective.

Such estimates are not simple. A closed-loop economy (hereinafter referred to circular economy) is a return to common sense. And this tells us that creating a mountain of rubbish floating in the oceans will not be without impact on our health and economy. As world consumption continues to grow, we need to reduce the amount of plastic and disposable packaging.

The transition to a circular economy – like any other change – will generate costs in the first period. In the long term, however, it will be beneficial for all.

Such a model is about extending the life cycle of a product. Waste must become the raw material for making the next product. Among other things, it is necessary to implement eco-design and raise standards so that products are not artificially aged. Today, cars or household appliances, i.e. goods that are very demanding when it comes to recycling, start to break down as soon as the warranty period expires.

If manufacturers motivate customers to share or repair the equipment instead of buying another one, it will be a more responsible approach to the environment.

But how to motivate manufacturers? For them, this will undoubtedly damage their core business. Because customers will buy less.

It will be detrimental to one business, but it will result in the growth of another. After the implementation of circular economy, I expect the development of other branches of industry and the renaissance of small and medium-sized enterprises. Craft and service professions such as tailor, shoemaker or watchmaker can also be revived.

Certainly, these will be more advanced products and services. On the other hand, production automation will continue.

What new businesses can be created? The first thing that comes to mind is car sharing.

I imagine that in the long run, we will also use autonomous vehicles in this way. We will not own them, but will order a transport service. But it is not only these shared businesses that are becoming more and more common. Companies involved in renting office or service space are also successful.

What can be a Polish specialty?

Our specialty may be the processing of waste for re-use in industry and power industry. Where we do not have extensive power grids, bio-refineries could be created. This could be a driving force for the development of the local economy in less urbanised areas. Such a raw materials and energy cluster could even become our export commodity.

Today, there are very few municipalities operating in the spirit of circular economy. We are far behind the Scandinavian markets. Do we have anything to boast about at all?

In Poland this movement has already started. An example is Wieluń, which in May of this year implemented a system motivating its inhabitants to segregate rubbish. In return for sorting waste into different fractions, residents gain points which can be exchanged for free access to public services such as transport or swimming pool.

This works better than the remuneration received in the shop for returning the bottle. Such a system could also become our specialty. There is no similar system in the whole of Europe.

I hope that many Polish municipalities will decide to implement such a system. This could happen in the coming years. There are funds to support such projects in the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management.

The system related to the collection and management of waste doesn’t have enough money, because our producers pay the lowest rates for putting packaging into circulation in the European Union. This does not motivate them to reduce their weight or quantity either.

Indeed, this system is not very motivating for entrepreneurs today. That is why we want to modify it. Just as in the emissions trading system, the one who poisons should pay.

Although we will have accurate data on the fees for plastic bags at the end of the year, we can already see how many shops are selling thicker and thicker bags at the same price. We need to think about how to solve this problem.  But there is also some good news. More and more customers come with reusable bags or pack their purchases in cardboard boxes from the store.

You’re talking about shops. What about producers?

For manufacturers, this motivation must be even greater. Producers who extend the life of their products or industries that recover raw materials from goods previously produced could, for example, receive tax reliefs.

On the other hand, if the company is not able to collect the packaging introduced to the market or prove how much it has processed for re-use, it will pay more as part of the so-called product fee.

Together with the Ministry of the Environment, we are working on the priorities of the roadmap. And for the first time in many years the interest of the environment is not on the margins of the economy.

The Ministry of Enterprise and Technology is working on a package of protective measures for the energy-intensive industry. There will be direct subsidies, to which 25 percent of funds from the pool of emission allowances sold by the state every year will be allocated. And what about other reliefs?

For the time being, 25% of the pool directed to direct subsidies for energy-intensive industries is only a proposal. We see the importance of industry and its importance for the economy. On the other hand, we realise that Europe is the leader in terms of technological requirements for clean production. Therefore, we must not allow these companies to lose their competitiveness when confronted with global brands. Compensation is intended to mitigate this risk.

We are still discussing other elements of the protection package, e.g. the quality fee or cogeneration relief (for the production of electricity and heat in one process).

We need a few weeks to complete the works.

Returning to the circular economy roadmap. When will this strategic document be ready?

I hope to have adopted the document at the Council of Ministers by the end of November. This will be the beginning of the legislative path of this document. At the same time, it will be a kind of distribution of roles between individual ministries. Because it is them who are to prepare a series of detailed regulations, e.g. with regard to the delineation of projects and equipping them with tools for their implementation.

The roadmap only needs to make us aware of the amount of legislative work still ahead of us.

What will be the impact of the implementation of these measures on the economy or the labour market?

We will prepare such estimates for the climate summit in Katowice. Perhaps we will use the strategic programme GOSPOSTRATEG, implemented by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education as part of the NCRD competition. Its aim is to create indicators for particular branches of industry, which prove the effectiveness of waste utilization. Perhaps it will be an excuse to establish fees for those who do not meet the requirements, e.g. in terms of recycling.

On the other hand, the administration has not yet motivated our manufacturers to implement this idea. Our furniture manufacturers win tenders for providing the equipment to Dutch and Belgian government offices. Because in Polish tenders ministries do not have such priorities.

During the last change of equipment in the ministry, we paid attention to promoting Polish design. Taking into account the life cycle of products also seems to be a good idea. Especially as we are currently working on the amendment of the Public Procurement Law.

The purchase of equipment and its repair service brings the discussion about prices onto a completely different level.

What other legislative initiatives need to be taken to bring us closer to circular economy?

Certainly, the biggest changes will include waste regulations. Some have already been implemented, because we have to implement EU directives and regulations within a certain period of time. Hence the waste acts, which have already come into force but still need to be corrected.

We have a huge problem with illegal landfills. This is where technology can help. By implementing geolocation and digitalization of processes, we will gain this knowledge without large financial outlays.

How does your department see the role of private companies operating on the waste market? Some of them complain about discrimination and losing the market to unprepared municipal companies.

The subject is difficult and not entirely obvious. Initially, the municipalities were happy that the competition on this market would force a fall in prices. The only problem is that small companies merged with larger ones. That is why in many towns and cities there is still one company that dictates prices and wins the tenders.

Many mayors are thinking about creating a partnership company dealing with waste management from several adjacent municipalities. As a result, they could pay less than for services ordered on the broad market.

What is the message from the Ministry of Enterprise and Technology for the climate conference in Katowice, the so-called COP24?

We want to boast about the government programme „Clean Air” and show how we have decided to solve one of the most serious problems in our country. Such a model of fighting for improvement of air quality – including, on the one hand, a comprehensive legislative approach and, on the other hand, financial support for both thermal upgrading and heat source exchange – may become an inspiration for other countries struggling with smog. COP24 will ensure good exposure to the whole world.

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