Euroviews. The latest update of EU clean air standards could benefit Poland greatly

A statue in Warsaw wearing a smog mask put on by environmental activists, January 2017
A statue in Warsaw wearing a smog mask put on by environmental activists, January 2017 Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
By Weronika Michalak
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

The revised Ambient Air Quality Directive is a great tool for the Polish government to swiftly shift from the costly smoggy past to a clear new era, with happier and healthier people in tow, Weronika Michalak

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The trilogue deal on the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive reached last week is a unique public health opportunity for Poland. 

The country has one of the highest economic and health burdens from air pollution in the EU — which is why the newly elected Polish government should help ensure the swift adoption of the agreement in the European Parliament and the European Council.

Ahead of the deal reached on 20 February, the Council wanted to see a possibility of a 10-year exemption from adhering to the legally binding air pollution limit values for countries that have a lower-than-EU average GDP. 

This would have included two-thirds of EU countries, including Poland. Gladly this plan was binned, as alarmingly — according to a new study — it could have caused around 90,000 additional premature deaths in Poland between 2030-2040. 

However, unfortunately, this exemption was replaced by another. In the provisional agreement, the European Parliament conceded to member states the possibility for a 10-year postponement based on significant impact to existing domestic heating systems.

In fact, the clean air goal is within reach

People in Poland are already paying a high price for air pollution, with health costs that exceed 10% of the GDP, while prevention is estimated to only cost between 0.01-0.02% of a country’s GDP. 

Polish people are also among the most dissatisfied with air pollution in Europe. A recent European Commission study revealed that people in Warsaw and Kraków had the lowest satisfaction regarding air quality, and more than 50 grassroots initiatives are demanding clean air action in all major Polish cities and towns.

Sadly, those most vulnerable suffer the most from air pollution — especially children with sometimes lifelong consequences for their health. 

Reaching the set targets would result in over 21,000 fewer premature deaths per year, and by 2030, most of the population would live in areas that would meet the proposed revised Air Quality Directive levels for PM2.5 — compared to the meagre 2 million people who currently do.
An activist holds a banner reading "Attention Smog" next to an installation resembling a cake made of coal in front of the Energy Ministry, in Warsaw, February 2018
An activist holds a banner reading "Attention Smog" next to an installation resembling a cake made of coal in front of the Energy Ministry, in Warsaw, February 2018AP Photo/Alik Keplicz

In addition to the respiratory problems of transport pollution, it also affects the cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems of children. 

The healthcare field is also awakening to these impacts; in 2023, doctors determined that air pollution caused the ailments of an 11-year-old living in Warsaw who suffered from respiratory difficulties and infections.

Yet, Poland can reach the annual standard for fine particulate matter PM2.5 by 2030 as foreseen in the trilogue deal just by continuing the boiler replacement programme already in place. 

Reaching the set targets would result in over 21,000 fewer premature deaths per year, and by 2030, most of the population would live in areas that would meet the proposed revised Air Quality Directive levels for PM2.5 — compared to the meagre 2 million people who currently do. 

An increasing number of Polish health organisations and experts have already the new government to step up its efforts against air pollution.

The benefits are clearly visible

As the next step, the trilogue agreement must still be adopted by the European Parliament and the European Council before entering into force. 

The deal outlines that countries exceeding air pollution limits must create air quality plans, and all countries need to create roadmaps with goals to comply with the new 2030 limit values. 

The deal includes updates on maximum levels for major air pollutants, strengthened monitoring requirements, and improvements in informing the public, especially vulnerable groups, on air pollution and health risks, which is also key for people in Poland.

These strong air pollution limits will bring significant health — and economic — benefits to Polish society. 

The revised Ambient Air Quality Directive is a great tool for the Polish government to swiftly shift from the costly smoggy past to a clear new era, with happier and healthier people in tow. 

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Weronika Michalak is Director of The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) Poland.

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