Climate Policy 12 January, 2018 10:00 am   
COMMENTS: Krzysztof Bolesta

Eco-zones are a chance to fight against traffic jams and smog

The introduction of special zones in cities with smog phenomenon was widely discussed for the first time in Poland in the spring of 2014. Krzysztof Bolesta, analyst, talks with about the idea of creating zero-emission zones. 

Origin of eco-zones

This was made possible by the proposal to create the so-called eco-zones. MPs who wanted to introduce them argued that action should be taken with care to ensure air quality in polluted cities. Statistics on premature deaths, which were the result of breathing polluted air, were also cited already at the time. Some representatives of local authorities responded to the initiative with categorical opposition. It was said that such a bill would violate the citizens’ right to free movement and discriminate against persons in difficult financial situation.

Agnieszka Kłąb, the spokesperson of the Warsaw Town Hall, referred to by Łukasz Kuligowski, the editor in Rzeczpospolita Daily, said that 20% of air pollution was generated in the capital city, whereas the remaining 80% came from outside. Today smog, and in fact the effects of smog have become extremely important. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki devoted an exposé to this issue. In order to combat smog effectively, a special office should be established. Recently issues related to eliminating the effects of smog and the future of Polish cities have been dealt with by: The Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Development, Ministry of Energy, and the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management. One of the flagship projects bringing Poland closer to the air quality improvement goals is the Electromobility Development Plan. Additionally, transport issues will be regulated by the Act on Electromobility and Alternative Fuels, which bill has just been submitted to the Sejm. Among other things, the bill provides for the possibility of establishing special low-emission zones free of transport emissions or significantly reducing them.

Bolesta: Eco-zones may be created in paid parking zones 

Krzysztof Bolesta, Research Director at and Vice President of the Foundation for the Promotion of Electric Vehicles, was asked by Agata Rzędowska about how electric and gas-fuelled mobility will develop in Poland and about the chances of establishing low-emission and zero-emission zones. Can low or zero-emission zones in cities be created in Poland with the current balance of power and available resources also in the form of legal acts?

Krzysztof Bolesta: Of course, they can. There are cities that have been attempting to do this for some time. We already have paid parking spaces today. This is the simplest ‘low-carbon zone’: to regulate the entry to city centres with parking charges. I know that local government officials would very much like the state to give them more freedom in this matter. In several cities, once the law as it currently stands is in force, parking fees will certainly increase, which means that car traffic and emissions will be reduced. No more or less, just a low-carbon zone. Just the first small step.

The creation of low and zero-emission zones is not a new idea. In 2014, there were people talking about so-called eco-zones in cities. Why did that initiative fail?

The earlier project had not really gotten through. Immediately after its announcement there was a massive attack on the originators. It was said that low-emission zones are an attack on less affluent Poles who would not be able to get to work or office. They would not be able to move freely. The problem of smog was not as big a problem as it is today, so there was no strong argument behind the zones. Now there is a second approach in other circumstances, but I am convinced that false arguments about favouring the rich and restricting freedoms will come back. However, I believe that we have a greater chance to defend the zones this time. The Act does not prescribe their creation, but provides us with the opportunity. That is a good solution.

 What will be more profitable to the cities: promoting low-emission or zero-emission zones in cities?

It seems to me that there would be no one to drive in the zero-emission zone today (laughs). Low emission zones mean more cars. The draft of the aforementioned act proposes low-carbon zones to begin with and we will see how this will continue to ‘move’ in the Parliament. For the time being, there is no possibility that zero-emission zones will be created.

Gas-fuelled vehicles will be able to move in low-carbon zones. Gas as a raw material is a fuel causing controversy among Polish people. We have become accustomed to LPG, but CNG and LNG will be completely new for us. Is the aspiration for gas-fuelled mobility a global trend or the elaborate work of lobbyists?

The bill is a major bow in the direction of gas-fuelled mobility. Is this a global trend? It depends on whether a given country has gas or not. In my opinion, therefore, we import gas to replace combustion engines with natural gas-fuelled engines, in one form or another, by transferring money for import from one pocket to another.

 If the bill were to come into force in its proposed wording, which local governments would lose, and which ones would benefit from it?

Those most affected by the combination of smog and traffic jams will benefit. For example, Kraków or Wrocław. The inhabitants of these cities are ready to limit traffic in the city centre, because they know what the reality looks like without them and they do not like it much. Local governments get very nice tools to improve the lives of their residents. The ones that will not use these tools will lose. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Unfortunately, in this case people become more venturous, as the elections are approaching.

Interview conducted by Agata Rzędowska