Pollution affects everybody – through the air we breathe, the water we drink or the land we grow our food on. It is the largest environmental cause of multiple mental and physical diseases and of premature deaths, especially among children, people with certain medical conditions and the elderly. Pollution is also one of the main reasons for the loss of biodiversity and it reduces the ability of ecosystems to provide services such as carbon sequestration and decontamination.
So how can it be prevented? The European Commission recently published its much-awaited Zero Pollution Action Plan, one of the last missing pieces of the European Green Deal. However, very few feedbacks for the EU Action Plan Roadmap came from the CEE region. This year’s European Green Week is dedicated to raising awareness of zero pollution initiatives providing a good opportunity to engage with all stakeholders on how we can work together to make the ambition for a zero pollution and toxic-free environment a reality. CEENERGYNEWS took this opportunity to organise a webinar as a partner event of the European Green Week inviting policymakers and think tanks from Central and Eastern Europe to clean up the information regarding pollution in the region.
In the first panel discussion Barbara Botos, Deputy State Secretary responsible for Climate Policy at the Hungarian Ministry for Innovation and Technology and Vladislav Smrž, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic shared the measures that are included in their countries’ National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) to reach zero pollution targets.
Both speakers underlined that in general higher ambitions must be paired with adequate financial resources, which is a guiding principle for this region.
Mrs Botos pointed out that the special circumstances of each Member State must be also taken into consideration. Both Hungary and the Czech Republic plans to rely on nuclear as a clean energy source to decarbonise their energy system and they agreed that gas can become a transition fuel to successfully abandon coal. The speakers also emphasised that we need to take into consideration the social aspect of the transition leaving no one behind.
Talking about concrete initiatives, Mr Smrž mentioned that in the past years the Czech Republic has been successfully running programs that support households to change their obsolete coal boilers, as a result, 100,000 boilers have been replaced, which had a significant positive impact on air quality demonstrated by the fact that last year the Czech Republic didn’t exceed the critical PM10 concentration levels.
Mrs Botos underlined that as the transport sector is a major contributor to air pollution, Hungary has already introduced programmes that are expected to alleviate the impact of transportation on air quality. She mentioned the Green Bus Programme which will help to replace 50 per cent of conventional buses in Hungary’s largest cities with low carbon emission ones within the next ten years. The State also provides support for the purchase of electric cars, bikes, scooters which is more and more popular among the population.
This points to the fact that people are increasingly aware of the importance of zero pollution, which is a fortunate meeting of bottom-up and top-down ambitions.
The second part of the event focused on successful projects and innovative ideas that strengthen the cooperative approach of zero-pollution initiatives.
Joanna Maćkowiak-Pandera is the President of Forum Energii, a Warsaw-based think tank forging the foundations of a clean, secure and effective energy system. She pointed out that one of the main challenges of the next decade in Poland is the rapid coal phase-out as there is no solution to fill the gap left behind after quitting coal, which should be essential to balance the power system and also to ensure clean air. However, she noted that it could be even an opportunity that there was not so much investment in gas as now we can see much lower prices of technology, as well as knowledge on how to integrate renewables. Supported by recovery funds we can now make a big step forward.
Stefan Dimitrov is the co-founder of airbg.info, an ambitious project that provokes action both among the citizens and institutions of Sofia and the country for air protection. The goal of the project is to create a network of sensors enabling citizens to know the levels of particulate matter in the air at all times. Mr Dimitrov pointed out that one of the biggest concerns of Bulgarians about their health is the air that they breathe. He underlined that the positive change within the society now must be matched with the corresponding ambition levels on the part of policymakers.
Péter Kaderják is the leader of Hungary’s Zero Carbon Hub, a recently founded knowledge centre that will contribute to meet Hungary’s 2050 climate-neutrality goal by encouraging cooperation between different disciplines and bringing together industry, policymaking, regulatory and academic stakeholders. As he explained people are looking for concrete actions and if it’s offered they are ready to follow. In big cities, this is very apparent in alternative and less polluting transport solutions.