The critical environmental and sustainability issues of Poland:
1. Ageing Generation
Poland’s population is ageing more rapidly than that of any other European countries. Thirty-five percent of the population will be over 65 by 2030, according to the World Bank. This situation is expected to further tighten the labor force and the demographic shift will create labor force constraints and strain the healthcare and pension systems.
According to the report presented by the Polish Central Statistical Office (Główny Urząd Statystyczny, GUS) in the year 2018, Poland entered the period of another demographic crisis (which was previously seen in the decade 1997-2007), but the current one may probably be a longer trend. Poland is undergoing a great generational change. Data shows that for ensuring a stable demographic development of a country, for every 100 women aged 15-49 there should be an average of 210-215 born children – currently in Poland however there are only 145 children per 100 women of childbearing age. Only in four provinces, is the ratio higher than the national one – the highest value of fertility is in the Pomeranian Voivodeship (in 2018 it was 162), Wielkopolskie and Mazowieckie (158), and Małopolskie (149); on the contrary the lowest is in Świętokrzyskie province (126) as well as in Opolskie (129).
2. Increasing Inequality
As overall income levels continue to mimic those of the European Union (EU), Poland needs to address the risk of increasing inequality. The disparities between regions are particularly significant.
Economic inequality in Poland is relatively high compared to other EU Member States. Wage dispersion and – to a lesser degree – income inequality are particularly high, while wealth inequality is low. The main reasons behind the substantial wage dispersion are the continuously high wage premium for tertiary education, a relatively large share of irregular employment forms on the Polish labour market and low trade union density. Since the personal income tax system is characterised by low progressivity, the significant wage dispersion translates to a relatively high income inequality.
3. Environmental Issues
Poland’s environmental situation has improved since the ouster of its communist regime, which has been accompanied by decreased emphasis on heavy industry and increased government awareness of environmental issues. However, Poland has yet to recover from the overexploitation of forests during World War II and the loss of about 1.6 million hectares (4 million acres) of forestland after the war. As of the mid-1990s, 75% of Poland’s forests have been damaged by airborne contaminants and acid rain.
Pollution of the air, water, and land were the most significant environmental problem facing Poland in the 1990s. Air pollution results from hazardous concentrations of airborne dust and chemicals including carbon dioxide, nitrogen compounds, fluorine, formaldehyde, ammonia, lead, and cadmium. In 1992, Poland had the world’s 12th highest level of industrial carbon dioxide emissions, which totals up to 341.8 million metric tons, a per capita level of 8.9 metric tons. In 1996, the total rose to 356 million metric tons. Industry-related pollution particularly affects the Katowice region, where dust and sulphur dioxide emissions exceed acceptable levels.
Water pollution in the Baltic Sea is 10 times higher than ocean water. Poland has 55 cu km of renewable water. Two percent is used to support farming and 64% is for industrial purposes. Poland’s cities generate on average 5.7 million tons of solid waste per year.
The nation’s wildlife has also suffered from degeneration of its habitats. As of 2001, 9.1% of Poland’s total land area was protected. Ten mammal species were endangered. Six bird species and one type of plant are also threatened with extinction. The cerambyx longicorn and rosalia longicorn are among the endangered species.
4. Depopulation of cities
The demographic low is associated with another social challenge – the depopulation of cities, especially the medium-sized ones, which will probably lose even half of their population in coming years. In Poland there are 930 cities and towns, 255 of them are medium sized cities with a population between 20.000-100.000 inhabitants. The decrease in their population will have a direct impact on the wealth of these cities and the possibility of financing, for example, social assistance programs for the poorest or those who are unable to work.