Danish-Polish Environmental Co-operation 1991-2000

Chapter 4
The transition of the Polish environment

The Polish environmental strategy

The Polish environmental strategy

The future membership of the European Union is an important motivation for Poland in its efforts to improve the environment. Poland has lead the way in its own environmental development by covering more than 95 per cent of its own environmental expenditures. Even though the environmental situation has improved over the last 15 years, there is still much to do before the country reaches the EU environmental level.

After years of inactivity, the environmental situation in Poland is now developing very fast and in the right and sustainable direction. This is clear when examining the statistical material from some of the areas with special environmental priority as for instance airquality, water-pollution, waste-disposal and biodiversity.

Emissions of the main pollutants in Poland have been declining or stabilised according to the balances for the period up to 1997. Available data from 1999 prove the declining tendency of emissions, while the economy is growing, though slower than before. For the majority of pollution parameters, the amount of pollution discharged into the Baltic Sea by Poland has been reduced during the recent years. The industrial waste quantities have been stable during the nineties, and despite the changes that human pressure brings upon the environment, Poland is one of the European countries with the highest level of biological diversity.

Air pollution has been as well reduced significantly. Dust and SO2 emissions declined with relatively 80 and 50% in relation to 1989, similarly nitrogen oxides from power plants (approx. 40%). General decrease in nitrogen oxides emissions was smaller due to the traffic growth (cars).

The environmental development in Poland actually started with the dissolution of the Eastern Block in the 1980s and the 1990s. This was the start of a period with fundamental political, social and economic changes. These changes gave rise to democratisation of public life, market economy and political freedom, which again led to a new attitude towards environmental issues.

Bad conditions for the environment

When Europe still was divided in "East" and "West" the planned and command economy in Poland was developed on the basis of different indicators adopted at central level. The efficiency of this former economy was low, also in terms of making rational use of environmental resources. Too large quantities of raw material and energy were consumed and no attention was paid to the amounts of waste generated. Likewise, no priority was given to environmental investment projects and if some projects nonetheless were launched they would usually rather quickly go bust in the competition for resources against the heavy industry. Data on the state of the environment were censored and deliberate obstacles reduced the opportunities for public action on environmental protection. As a result of such policy, the quality of the environment deteriorated substantially, in some regions to a dramatic extent.

Management policies in the coal industry clearly illustrate the absurdity of the former political priorities. Coal was and has remained the main energy raw material used in Poland. In the period of planned economy, the official extraction level was about 200 million tonnes; but despite this, the power generation sector industry and the population always suffered from its shortage. At present, its extraction level is lower by almost a half and the energy system of the country holds large reserves of it.

From central to de-centralised responsibility

Obviously, the transition to market economy has played an important role in the Polish development, but also the decentralisation and the establishment of the system of local governance have been important factors to the environmental success in Poland. It was due to decisions from the local governments that numerous of new investment projects emerged to protect the environment.

Moreover, the fact that Poland during the 1990s covered more than 95 per cent of its own environmental expenditures shows that there are good intentions for the environment.

Being a part of the European Community

Short after the removal of the Iron Curtain, it was apparent that Poland wanted to be integrated in the European Union. In this integration process the environment is a sensitive area and indeed Poland still has a long way ahead before complying with the EU standards.

As a consequence of the new environmental obligations Polish authorities in the early nineties produced many documents of fundamental significance for environmental protection. It was at the same time that a number of legal acts, which were essential for correct actions in environmental protection and rational use of environmental resources, were put into action. This included the establishment of obligatory procedures in the scope of environmental impact assessment for investment projects, development and strengthening of the state inspectorate for environmental protection with powers to enforce compliance with the environmental law and monitoring the state of the environment.

From the point of view of the implementation of environmental policy, the focal point was to establish the system of environmental funds, to collect resources from obligatory fees and fines for the use of the environment, which was one of the consequences of the implementation of the "polluter pays principle".

The environmental three stage rocket

It was in relation to this initial official environmental wave that the Parliament in 1991 adopted the framework political document "The National Environmental Policy" - the NEP I. The document was based on the fundamental principles of environmental protection and recognised sustainable development as the main goal of the management of the environment.

The document provided for three stages in reaching this goal. A short-term goal was to stop the process of deterioration of the environment, which included an elimination of environmental hazards posing an imminent threat to human health. The mid-term goal was to improve the quality of the environment and to rationalise the use of its resources. This was done by a harmonisation of Polish standards to western levels and particularly to that of EU legislation. Finally the long-term goal was to ensure that the principle of sustainable development would be implemented throughout Poland.

This first environmental strategy - the NEP I gave direction to all actions in environmental protection in Poland throughout the decade. As a supplement and on basis of the first national environmental policy the National Environmental Policy Programme to the Year 2000 was developed in 1994. It was an ambitious plan, which was intended to be a tool in the efforts to implement the mid-term policy objectives. Its main priorities were related to the reduction of the environmental impact on the air, water, and soil, development of waste treatment and disposal facilities, water resources development, as well as the expansion of nature conservation areas. The total budget required for the programme to the year 2000 was estimated at USD 13 billion. Previous estimates of the overall cost of the environmental improvements to the end of the 1990s have ranged from USD 35 billion to 50 billion.

The preparation of a National Environmental Policy

At the second half of the 1990s almost all short-term targets and the majority of mediumterm objectives of the First NEP have been achieved. However, it was recognised that both the constitutional rank of environmental protection and the new challenges, which Poland faced, for instance the process of its accession to the European Union, required the adoption of new programming documents. This led to elaboration of the "Second National Environmental Policy" the NEP II, adopted by the Government in June 2000.

The intention was to make the second document a political and strategic document setting the guidelines of the state action in the field of environmental protection for the upcoming decades. The second strategy should in a new way define the principles of environmental policy and included all issues, which had not been clearly identified in the first strategy, by describing:
a development of macro-economic and sectional policies in a manner that would favour the development of the country coming increasingly closer to the model of sustainable development;
the improvement of the state of the environment;
the reduction of the pressure of consumption on the environment by shaping environmentally friendly patterns;
the provision of access for the public to environmental information and its participation in decisionmaking;
the adoption of measures to ensure compliance between Polish environmental policy and the scope of actions adopted in the environmental policy of the European Union the environmental acquis communautaire and also in connection to the different international conventions and protocols e.g. the Kyoto Protocol on climate changes, Convention on Biodiversity, the Geneva Convention, the Basel Convention and the II Sulphur Protocol.

These problems are continuously being addressed by:
Improving the legal, administrative and economic mechanisms regulating the use of the environment;
Improving the environmental management structures at all levels of government administration and local governance;
Negotiations with the European Union concerning the adoption by Poland of certain Community requirements in the field of environmental protection.

In the drafting of the second strategy, the NEP II, it was very important to underline the priority given to work towards full integration of the environment in other sectors like for instance the economic and the social sector. This means that the environmental considerations also would play an important role when it comes to e.g.: industry, energy, transport, agriculture, tourism, fishery, building, trade, municipalities, health and social welfare, the labour market, the educational sector.

In addition to this document, several other programming papers were prepared, including the strategy on environmental education "Through Education to Sustainable Development", the Government document "Poland 2025 Long-term strategy for sustainable development " dealing with the directions of Poland's social and economic development in the spirit of sustainable development.

"The National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis" and "The Negotiation Position of Poland in the Chapter: Environment" are the starting point, because they set out the major direction of actions related to Poland's efforts to become a member of the European Union.

The public involvement

If the intentions, documents and programmes are going to have the slightest chance of being implemented and succeed it is of vital importance to extend the list of participants in the process. Citizens, organisations and authorities need to be actively involved and feel responsible for the development towards sustainability.

Above all, this requires openness and access to the information and decision-making processes within the field of environmental protection. For instance this implies that citizens and nongovernmental organisations should be granted the possibility of having easy access to relevant information. Secondly the chances for a successful process are better if the role of the local governments are strengthened and the participation and involvement of the private sector is increased.

Also the role of education, science and transfer of environmental friendly technologies and environmental management must be emphasised in the whole process.

Even though, involvement and openness are keywords in the attempts to improve the environment the process will not succeed without also increasing the number of the existing legal and economic instruments in order to ensure the effectiveness of the environmental laws and the economic efficiency of the currently applied solutions.

The need for financial support

The system for financing investment projects in environmental protection in Poland is mainly based on the local governments' and the companies' own resources, the state budget, commercial credits, grants and credits from the system of environmental funds, grants from the Ecofund and foreign assistance funds.

The environmental funds in Poland draw their resources among others from fees for the emissions to the environment and penalties for its pollution. Most of the environmental fees and fines collected are set aside for environmental purposes. An analysis of the National and Regional Environmental Fund's revenues reveals that the industrial sector effectively is the main financier of environmental investments.

During the period 1990-1999, the Fund's financial resources were directed mainly towards air protection (40 per cent) and water protection projects - mainly waste water treatment (43 per cent) of the total. This is also reflected in the priority areas in the National Environmental Policy.

In this connection the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management plays a key role, because it provides low interest financing and grants. The fund was founded in 1990 and is the largest financing institution within the field of environmental protection in Poland. It is also the only one of its size in the Central- and Eastern European countries.

Except from the nation wide National Fund there are sixteen Voivodship Funds for Environmental Protection and Water Management throughout, who deal with similar activities, just on a regional scale.

About 25 per cent of the total expenditures for environmental protection are covered by the Environmental Fund. Over the period 1990- 1998 the Fund has granted almost 6000 loans and subsidies, totalling over 5 billion PLN (USD 1,16 billion). The Fund also manages the financial resources made available by foreign assistance programs for instance from the European Union. During the same period from 1990-1998 this kind of management amounted a total of EUR 103 million (USD 88 million).

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Financial assistance from the "Paris Club"

In April 1991, creditor countries constituting the so-called "Paris Club", agreed to write off 50 percent of the Polish foreign debt, provided that the balance would be paid by 2010. The Eco Fund is a foundation established in 1992 by the Minister of Finance for purposes of effective management of funds obtained through the conversion of a part of the Polish foreign debt to the benefit of supporting environmental protection-related undertakings, the so called "debt for nature swap".

The eco-conversion arrangements allow for cancellation of up to 10% of the Polish State debt, which had been accrued before 1980 in return for environmental protection investments implemented in Poland. It has been United States, France, Switzerland, Italy and Sweden that were involved in ecoconversion, hence the Eco Fund has been managing funds provided by these countries - a total of USD 545 million to be spent between 1992 and 2010.(8)

The task of Eco Fund is to provide for environmental protection-related projects which are of crucial importance on regional or national scale, or have a major influence on the process of achieving environmental objectives recognised as priorities by international community on a global as well as European level. Another task of Eco Fund is the transferring of the best technologies from donor countries to the Polish market, as well as stimulating the development of the Polish environmental protection industry.

Increase in environmental investments

In the 1990s in Poland, expenditures on investment projects in environmental protection increased tremendously. The share of environmental investments in terms of Gross National Product has increased from 0.5 per cent in 1985 to 1.4 per cent in 1999.

Poland's ability to invest in environmental protection is a very important factor in its efforts of becoming a member of the European Union. Specifically, the cost of Poland's approximation with the European Union requirements in the field of environmental protection is estimated to amount to approximately PLN 90-150 billion (approx. USD 21 - 35 billion).

Prioritised areas for environmental protection

In an attempt to make the Polish environmental efforts as efficient as possible The National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management has identified its prioritised areas for environmental protection investments financed by the National Funds. The areas include:
water resource protection, by providing financial support for the construction of water and waste water treatment plants, water saving technologies, construction of closed water circulation and multiple-use systems;
air quality protection by supporting modern technologies, particularly for the reduction of energy consumption and elimination of harmful air emissions; rationalisation of heating systems; production and installation of pollution reducing equipment; use of alternative sources of energy; and encouragement of modern technological improvements to reduce the environmental impact of road transport;
protection of land surface, and improvements in waste management by supporting low and non-waste technologies, utilisation and treatment of industrial and municipal wastes, proper handling of hazardous wastes for instance hospital waste; landfills; re-use of waste at source; reclamation and recultivation of degraded soils;
geological and hydrogeological research; development of mining technologies and processing of minerals; collection and purification of mining waters; re-cultivation of areas degraded by mining activities;
conservation of nature by providing financial assistance for projects implemented in regions under special care; projects focused on organisation and management of teaching, training, and research centres and scientific facilities in national parks; restitution and reintroduction of endangered species; complete protection of forest stands and biocenosis; restoration of natural heritage in parks and palace gardens registered as historical sites;
environmental education by supporting training projects; radio and television programmes; support for environmental education programmes on a national scale
monitoring of environment and financial support for the implementation of projects resulting from the national Environmental Monitoring Program.

Bialowieza Forest - one of Europe's most important and spectacular forest areas

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Moving towards the European Union

The Polish accession into the European Union plays a key-role in the environmental considerations and investments in Poland. The EU is the main foreign source of financing for environmental protection in Poland, thereby the EU has cemented its importance to the country - as a donor as well as a future partner.

The approximation process is regularly evaluated by the EU in the regular Reports and the Accession Partnership. The Accession Partnership indicates the priority areas for Poland's preparation for their EU membership. Before Poland can be a full member of the European Union they have to fulfil all the commitments of the legislative approximation and implementation of the acquis in accordance with the commitments made under the European Agreement, the screening exercise and the negotiation process. However, the incorporation of the acquis into the legislation is not in itself sufficient. It is necessary to ensure that the Polish development actually apply to the EU standards. Therefore the EU support programmes play an important role for the countries applying for EU membership not only in terms of financing but also in terms of technical and practical assistance.

When it comes to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, EBRD and the World Bank none of them are acting as donors as such, but as financing institutions. This means that assistance is given for instance in preparation of project proposals or in connection with analyses of cost of EUcompliance.

8 Input to revision of the Country Programme: "Environmental Programme Priority Areas 2000-2002 - Poland", DEPA, 2000.