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European Court Slams Poland for Exceeding Local Air Quality Targets

Poland’s coal-friendly government is failing to uphold European Union air quality standards designed to bring down an annual death rate of 400,000 from airborne pollution across the continent, the EU’s top court ruled late last month.

Environmentalists have called on Poland to take action to improve air quality, which in some places, especially in the south, can be worse than in Beijing and New Delhi, the world’s most polluted cities,” Reuters reports. “But activists said the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party had been slow in introducing anti-smog regulations and complained to the EU.”

Poland will be hosting this year’s United Nations climate change conference later this month. The country has so far marked the occasion by moving forward with two of Europe’s biggest new coal-fired generating stations, and seeking to discourage efforts to amp up global momentum to implement the 2015 Paris agreement.

Now, after the European Commission took court action against poor air quality in Poland resulting from extensive coal and rubbish burning in homes, the European Court of Justice determined the country has “persistently exceeded” limits on hazardous PM10, particulate matter under 10 micrometres in size. Airborne levels exceeded regulated daily limits in 35 of 46 “air quality zones”, and Poland blew through annual limits in nine of the zones.

Piotr Wozny, a deputy minister responsible for air quality, unveiled a new pilot program to improve air quality in 22 of the most polluted communities, while blaming past national governments for neglecting the problem. “Fighting smog is one of the government’s priorities,” said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, “but we will not be able to do it within a year.”

The European Environmental Bureau called the Court of Justice decision a warning to “toxic bloc” governments in the EU that consistently breach air quality laws.

This ruling in not just about Poland,” said Policy Officer Margherita Tolotto. “It should serve as a warning to other governments that there are consequences for inaction on air pollution. The European Commission has been very clear that a Europe that cares about its citizens cannot ignore this invisible killer. We expect other governments will be sent to court next month.”