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Marta Bromboszcz: Towards better air quality

Towards better air quality. How energy efficiency is helping to reduce smog in Poland’s Malopolska Region.

During the second edition of the Central and Eastern European Energy Efficiency Forum (C4E Forum) which took place in Serock, Poland, last June 2018, the representatives of private sector, public institutions, government and non-governmental organizations gathered to discuss the ways to accelerate energy efficiency reforms in Central and Eastern Europe. During one of the sessions devoted to local action to improve the quality of life, the LIFE Integrated Project[1] in Poland was discussed as a pilot initiative to improve air quality in cities through energy efficiency measures. Does reducing air pollution with energy efficiency really work and is it worthy of investment? Here are some conclusions from the project and discussions held during the panel session in Serock.

In Europe and particularly in Southern Poland, air pollution is a major issue. The problem is visible in big cities or regions located in proximity of highly industrialized zones. Who of us hasn’t read, especially in this period of the year, about the deadly smog levels reported in big European cities like Paris or London? Whereas this news is worrisome to say the least, it’s actually Poland which is home to the most polluted cities in Europe (to be precise 33 out of Europe’s 50 most polluted cities) according to the report published by the World Health Organization (WHO)[2]. This infamous ranking shows the scale of a problem inhabitants of Polish cities are struggling with on an everyday basis. The air pollution is caused mainly by coal-fired power plants and residents burning cheap coal, wood and waste in their old home stoves. Although the Polish government may underestimate the gravity of this issue by saying that Poland is a “country where the climate is consistently improving[3] and that “coal is the foundation of our energy sector and we cannot and do not want to abandon it[4][5], local governments, under the pressure of residents, are taking serious steps to tackle the air pollution in cities.

The LIFE project in Poland was born as a response to raising concerns about air quality. Energy efficiency stands in the center of the action. The knowledge on untapping the potential of energy efficiency is disseminated among residents by a network of eco-managers who provide advice and assistance on energy efficiency investments to households, raise awareness about smog and air pollution in local schools and distribute educational materials. This bottom-up approach and close cooperation with local communities does not only lead to improvement of the quality of life for locals but also sets examples for the rest of the region and the country itself in efficiency delivery.

As stemmed from the side discussions during the panel session on local action to improve the quality of life, eco-managers target schools, among other communities, to disseminate information on the causes of smog. Interestingly enough and as reported by one of the eco-managers, the majority of children and teachers in Malopolska region are not actually aware of the air pollution problem. Having lived in one place for their entire life and having no possibility of comparison between breathing a clean vs polluted air, makes people consider smog as part of their every-day lives. For this reason, raising awareness about air pollution among inhabitants and pupils as well as outlining possible solutions to tackle the problem, is of great importance for changing the mindset.

Eco-managers also target single family households as main contributors to air pollution. By encouraging citizens to replace old boilers with environmentally friendly energy sources, promoting thermal modernization of their houses and providing professional advisory by carrying out thermographic measurements of buildings, eco-managers promote the uptake of energy efficient solutions as means to improve the air quality. In other words, if the generation of energy creates air pollution, then one of the best ways to reduce air pollution is to improve energy efficiency. If homeowners have access to reliable information on benefits stemming from energy efficiency investments, they are more likely to conduct them. Eco-managers play thus an important role in this process as their technical background and expertise can directly contribute to boosting energy efficiency and reducing environmental footprint of the properties.

As concluded during the session, reducing air pollution with energy efficiency works, although results are not immediate and visible mainly in the long-term. As the example of LIFE project in Poland shows, it is beneficial to pursue energy efficiency by linking it to other key topics, like for instance air pollution. Since smog currently more prominently features in Polish minds, it creates a perfect momentum to advance energy efficiency policies. Raising awareness and broadly communicating the benefits and opportunities stemming from energy efficiency investments among residents is of paramount importance. After all, small behavioral changes can potentially trigger large changes in energy use[6]!

Marta Bromboszcz

Marta Bromboszcz is currently supporting the implementation of the EU4Energy Governance Project at the Energy Community Secretariat in Vienna, Austria. She is experienced in project and programme management, due to her work in international development. In her career, Marta worked on energy issues at the European Commission (DG Energy), European Climate Foundation and private sector.  

https://www.energy-community.org/

Footnotes:

[1] “Implementation of Air Quality Plan for Małopolska Region – Małopolska in a healthy atmosphere”, available at https://powietrze.malopolska.pl/en/life-project/ , accessed on 02.12.2018

[2] World Health Organization (2017) “WHO Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database (update 2016)”, available at http://www.who.int/phe/health_topics/outdoorair/databases/cities/en/

[3] Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Changing Together”, available at https://twitter.com/PolandMFA/status/1065224200435187712 accessed on 17.12.2018,

[4] Phrase by Mateusz Morawiecki, Polish Prime Minister

[5] The Economist, “Why 33 out of 50 most-polluted towns in the Europe are in Poland?”, available at https://www.economist.com/europe/2018/01/18/why-33-of-the-50-most-polluted-towns-in-europe-are-in-poland, accessed on 10.12.2018

[6] IPEEC, “Behaviour Change for Energy Efficiency: Opportunities for International Cooperation in the G20 and Beyond”, available at https://ipeec.org/upload/publication_related_language/pdf/856.pdf , accessed on 12.09.2018