Policy Brief: The Greening Process of Heating and Transportation

Visegrad Insight Policy Brief

29 November 2023

Despite progress in the modernisation of the building sector and transportation since 1989, the V4 still has not done enough to develop transformation technologies addressing the growing air pollution and meeting the green agenda. Consequently, air pollution is the most severe in this region, with Poland leading the charge.

This paper is co-sponsored by Visegrad Insight – Res Publica Foundation and the European Climate Foundation. It is part of the larger project on climate and democratic security in Central and Eastern Europe, which you can read more about here.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Coal-burning power plants, outdated heating systems, poor thermal insulation of residential buildings and the prevalence of car transportation contribute to severe air pollution in the Visegrad Group, particularly Poland.  In contrast to the outgoing rightist government that opposed  Fit for 55, a new coalition set to take power after 15 October elections is likely to pursue a more climate-ambitious approach. It is expected to shift Poland’s position on two of ikey issues: the increase of the EU’s greenhouse emissions reduction target and the ban on the registration of new cars with combustion engines. The following recommendations are based on direct input from expert interviews:

  • While the existing Clean Air program has made significant progress, the new Polish government should further increase energy efficiency in buildings to improve air quality, increase energy security, and reduce costs. .
  • Following up on the recommendations of the European Council in the making, Poland should establish air pollution monitoring supersites on its territory based on population and size. Multiple sampling points should provide long-term data on air pollutants covered by the revised EU directive; particles and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), benzene, arsenic, lead and nickel, among others.
  • Poland should cooperate with other member states, especially the Visegrad group, to better identify the transnational sources of air pollution and measures necessary to address them. It should take form in activities such as the preparation of coordinated national air quality plans.
  • Poland does not prioritise zero-emission cars in its national taxation system. The Polish government should re-design the regulation that benefits both individuals and companies while prioritising clean mobility in terms of electric vehicle purchases.
  • Bringing in best practices would be crucial for the V4, in particular Poland, as they often lack firms that can carry out state-of-the-art solutions to green transformation, heating, and thermal insulation of residential and public buildings.
  • To change social norms, the Polish government needs to take a holistic approach: it should launch a national cost-benefit campaign to debunk disinformation and undercut populist arguments against Fit for 55 and its impact on economic growth.

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INTRODUCTION

Air pollution remains one of the most crucial health-related issues in Poland. The country has 36 out of the 50 most polluted cities in Europe; polluted air leads to an estimated 46,000 premature deaths yearly and significant annual economic losses of around 37.2 billion EUR.  In many cities and regions, the level of atmospheric pollution remains well above the limits established in the European Union, largely resulting from outdated heating systems. As we pointed out in our previous policy briefs on Energy Poverty and Just Transition, the burning of poor-quality coal, wood, or even waste in individual houses is key for the high level of particulate matter in the air. Another key driver is the transportation sector, which accounts for approximately 15% of Polish greenhouse gas emissions.

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