March 8, 2018
Last week the European Commission released new information that Czech Republic and 8 other member states are behind schedule on reducing emissions. All countries in question; Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, have until mid-March to deliver documents proving genuine effort to meet the quotas. If there will be no sufficient proof, sanctions will be in order. Of course, the sanctions are for now very unrealistic and blur.
Czech Republic, as part of the EU, is bound by its sustainable climate policy. The major goal is to cut down the emissions of CO2, N2O, and other greenhouse gases. European Union draw a plan with a name “2020 environmental package”, to decrease these emissions by 20 % and therefore to lower the influence on the environment.
This package was introduced in 2005 and set in 2007 (legislated in 2009). This policy legislation on climate and energy should mainly lead to decrease of emissions and increase usage of renewable sources as well as improving current energy efficiency. Member states have agreed on annual targets for cutting emissions in sectors as agriculture and housing, so that they meet the overall target in 2020. Of course, the quotas differ depending on the size and wealth of the country.
The Czech Republic has been successful in meeting its goals in using and creating new renewable sources of energy, which, despite being meagre, has to be deemed a success. On the other hand, it is also behind with cuts in emissions. For several years, the country has struggled with heavy air pollution in urban areas, which in many cases leads to premature deaths.
In 80 %, air pollution is considered as a source of heart diseases or lung cancer. In addition, by causing health problems, air pollution harms economics. In European Commission Country Report from 2017 it is said, that due to air pollution, Czech Republic is losing about 6 million Euro a year thanks to sickness of employees.
The biggest contributor to air pollution is a high activity of mining, industry based on coal combustion, and transport. Most frequent particles are those of NO2 or particulates PM10 or PM2.5. These particles are important since the main contributors are diesel vehicles. Diesel motor, on one hand saving about 20 % of CO2 emissions, is polluting the air with these particles 100 % more in comparison with petrol car. Now, this is useful to know since the majority of cars made in Czech Republic are diesel and it would be rather inconvenient for the automobile industry to lose market as well as pay for remake of factories. The persistent breaches of air quality requirements will be punished by measures depending on European Commission as they note in the Environmental Implementation Report 2017 for Czech Republic.
Again, the bargaining power of the European Commission and EU over the states is low due to economic strategy and financial profits. The most usual punishment is cutting the EU funding to branches like agriculture or industry or the disobeying members have to pay fines. It is hard to tell which is going to be used, but it is definite that Czech Republic is going to lose money.
The recommendations made by European Commission to change this situation are mainly considering transport control and reduction of usage of the diesel vehicles, in large cities as Prague, Brno or Ostrava. In previous years, a similar plan was implemented in many European cities such as Berlin, where they lowered the admissibility of cars into city centers. In addition, there is a new initiative, C40, which represents new green emission-free cities. The city mayors met during COP21 in Paris, where it was decided that until 2030, all these 40 cities around the world would create a free emissions areas. Members of C40 are, among others, Paris, Barcelona, Milan, London and from overseas Los Angeles and Quito.
In Prague, there has been similar drive to apply low-emission zones in city center last winter, but during the year the proposal was rejected (better say passively resisted) since the politicians were unable to reach an agreement. It is important to highlight that the proposal was outdated since it would have banned vehicles with a class EURO 3 or 4; those are cars made before 2001 or 2005, thus it represents ones of the lowest classes of requirements. Experts also said this legislation would not have been sufficient on its own; since it is common practice in European cities require to buy higher classes like 5 or 6 to comply with emissions limit of European Commission. Thus, Prague would also have to do the same to cut down significantly the numbers of urban air pollution.
However, Prague is rather going opposite direction. Instead of following the green and sustainable flow, it goes against the current; one of the districts in the center tries to ban riding a bike in the pedestrian zones, just to name one example.
The municipality of Prague 1 asked for clear streets from bikes, segways and other electrical scooters, very popular among tourists. It argues it will protect pedestrians and especially tourist in very narrow streets of the old town. However, many citizens and organizations argued that removal of safe passages for bikers through the pedestrian zones, where the cycling routes leads, will force them to join the traffic with cars, which would increase the danger of bicyclers dramatically. The leading argument is that if the municipality wants to do it, they have to offer compensation in a way of building bike lanes aside from lanes for cars. This is also a showcase of contradictory behavior in a long-term policy concerning not only air pollution and environment, but also urban planning. Prague 7 and 9 are building lanes for bikes to the center and Prague 1 in the center does complete opposite.
The same can be observed with the traffic itself. Blanka, a tunnel under Vltava river, it only removed the problem to different part of Prague were the circuit of Prague is not yet finished and it is not even planned. Therefore, the heavy traffic with ferries, truck and long distance vehicles goes directly through the city center.
This leads to one conclusion: Prague seems unwilling to adopt long-term sustainable solutions to environmental problems despite several options existing. While there is a chance of the Czech Republic meeting the target, it will require a concerted effort that the country has thus far been either unwilling to or incapable of adopting, either of which are tragic given the gravity of the issue. In two weeks, European Commission will release decision on this matter and it will be very interesting to watch how the Czech part is going to deal with this enormous challenge ahead.