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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Poland as Clean Leader

Air Date: Week of

Steve Curwood speaks with Zbigniev Bochniarz of the University of Minnesota about Poland's marked success at combining far reaching environmental objectives with economic reforms.


CURWOOD: While the Czech government's environmental record may have fallen short of some expectations, the country is still doing better than some of its neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe. Bulgaria and Romania, for instance, have yet to pass basic environmental laws. But perhaps Eastern Europe's leader in environmental reform is Poland. The country which led the way out of the Soviet sphere is now setting the standard for cutting pollution and improving infrastructure. According to University of Minnesota researchers, industrial pollution in Poland has fallen about 30% in 5 years, and 900 new water treatment plants have been built. Zbigniev Bochniarz is a Polish-trained economist who is now director of the University of Minnesota's Environmental Training Project. He says the integration of environmental and economic reforms in Poland has been the key to its environmental successes.

BOCHNIARZ: The major achievement of Poland is integration of environmental issues with economic and social issues. They even use the term sustainable development as a strategy for Poland.

CURWOOD: Okay, so can you give me some examples of how they did this?

BOCHNIARZ: The best example is, Poland environmental protection was put on self-financing base, which is predictable, which is stable, which does not depend on political fighting in the Parliament. It means that about 92% of all expenditures are out of budget. They are coming from special funds created from environmental charges and fines for pollution as well as for extraction of natural resources. They created a capital market which is now more than $1 billion, and which is about 1.3% of Gross Domestic Product. Which is very significant.

CURWOOD: What else did Poland do to give it the lead on the environment in Central Europe, in your view?

BOCHNIARZ: They created an environment which made enterprises interested in a reduction of emissions and investing in clean technologies, and in energy conservation. The price of liberalization and slashing of energy subsidies helped the environment very much.

CURWOOD: These are a lot of important changes. Why was Poland able to do this?

BOCHNIARZ: First of all, because the environmental economists were able to translate environmental objectives into the language of economic reforms. They spoke the same language as people from the Finance Ministry, and they convinced them that the environment should be a part of the big transition.

CURWOOD: What are the biggest problems still facing Poland in the environment today?

BOCHNIARZ: One of the problems is, the Western-style consumerism is really reducing the results, positive results coming from the industry. Industrial pollution is going down, but pollution from transportation, particularly from individual cars, is dramatically increasing. During the 40 years, the number of cars increased by 50%. So can you imagine the pollution coming out?

CURWOOD: What's your prescription for Poland and the other nations in Central Europe, then, to improve the environment?

BOCHNIARZ: In general, we need to take advantage of market and democratic reforms. We need to build in the environment to economic concerns, to political concerns. Not fighting with these changes, but somehow embrace them, would be my advice.

CURWOOD: Zbigniev Bochniarz is Director of the Environmental Training Project for Central and Eastern Europe at the University of Minnesota. Thank you, sir.

BOCHNIARZ: Thank you very much.



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