Poland’s CO2 emissions

2 min read


Ewa Kiełsznia

Writer, transcreator and eco-enthusiast

Poland is one of the most rapidly developing countries of Central and Eastern Europe. It’s fast economic growth inevitably entails an increasing level of CO2 emissions in Poland. The first leap forward in economic development was recorded after the political transformation of 1989, and the accession to the European Union has only further increased the pace of change in the country. This article describes the level of CO2 emissions in Poland in details and elaborates on various factors determining it.

CO2 emissions in Poland per capita

How much GHG does an average person in Poland emit? This number is not only the sum of emissions from individual commuting, shopping or energy use. In terms of calculating the average emissions of a citizen, first we need to calculate the total emissions of a country (including the entire industry, transport, and production) and divide this figure by the number of its inhabitants.

An average Polish citizen emits about 24 kg CO2 into the atmosphere daily. Is it a lot? On a global scale, Poland ranks around the 21st place. In the European Union, according to 2014 data, Poles occupied a (not too honourable) 4th place: after Germany, France, and Italy. Annual CO2 emissions in Poland per capita sum up to about 10.4 tonnes – to match the European average of 8.2 tonnes, Poland still needs to work harder on reducing.

What constitutes our CO2 emissions? There are many factors, the most important of which are industry, transport, and the energy production. The average Pole is aware of the fact that humanity has to take action if we want to protect our climate: as many as 72% of Poles admit that the situation on Earth is serious and requires immediate action. However, to the same question as many as 20% of Poles answered that they are not sure about the human impact on climate change – we hope that this article will at least slightly change the point of view of the latter part of respondents.

CO2 emissions of the Polish transport section

I want to ride my bicycle – is cycling popular in Poland?

Let’s start with the good news: as many as 70% of Poles own a bicycle. 22% of Poles cycle regularly, 35% infrequently, and occasionally: 13%.  Admittedly, Polish cities are still far behind Copenhagen, Munich or other metropolises where casually dressed cyclists heading to work form massive crowds every morning, but every year things are getting better. In Poland, Gdańsk is considered the most cycle-friendly city, with an impressive network of 838.4 km of cycling paths.

The capital also has something to boast about. Publicly available bicycle renting system is in place since 2009. It’s user-friendly and inexpensive: only in May 2018 Veturilo, the urban bike system, recorded as many as 1,030,332 individual rides.  Short rides are available free of charge, users can easily access the bikes with an app, bikes are ready at almost every corner, its service is taken care of… The example of Veturilo shows that properly applied system definitely encourages cycling in the cities.

Is cycling completely CO2-free? Unfortunately not. A bicycle doesn’t run on petrol, but we do need to provide our bodies with calories to get it moving. Food, its packaging, transportation, and refrigeration – all of these unfortunately leave a carbon footprint. Additionally, the production of a bicycle also leaves a carbon footprint. Nonetheless, the bicycle remains the greenest (and healthiest!) mode of transportation mankind has yet invented. How much CO2 do we save by cycling? Over a distance of 10 km compared to a car ride it is already about 2.6 kg CO2! Just imagine how huge a cloud of gas should become to be that heavy! Visualizing it helps realizing how huge the real savings are.

Public transportation in Poland

Besides the bikes, the best ways to travel around cities are buses and trams. How popular is public transport in Poland? There are 11,500 buses, 3,342 trams and 215 trolleybuses riding on Polish roads – the latter operate only in Gdynia, Lublin, and Tychy. The metro in Poland operates only in Warsaw, and it covers two lines with a total of 28 stations and a length of 29.2 km.

How often do Poles use public transport? In Warsaw, almost 60% of inhabitants travel by public transport, which places the Polish capital quite high in the European ranking. Unfortunately, inhabitants of many smaller towns and villages suffer under the so-called “transport exclusion” – this term describes difficult or no access to public transport. It promotes an increased use of cars – otherwise the inhabitants of these towns and villages would be completely separated from the rest of the world.

Cars in Poland – is car still an important status symbol?

Under certain conditions, the car is indeed the fastest mode of transportation. However, these conditions are usually not met during rush hours and we invariably create traffic jams in the morning and afternoon by commuting alone by car. The solution to this problem is already there, we just don’t use it. It requires us simply to switch to public transport or use carpooling more often!

How many cars are there in Poland? Over the last two decades, the number of cars in Poland has tripled. The statistics of car ownership in the European Union shows how many people in Poland own a car. Surprisingly, Poland is in the second place, just after Luxembourg! There are over 24 million cars in Poland, 747 per 1000 inhabitants.  These millions of (mostly diesel) engines create quite a cloud of greenhouse gases. Total GHG emissions in Poland from cars alone sum up to over 30 million tonnes CO2. Additionally, there are 8.5 tonnes CO2 from vehicles other than passenger cars and 23.3 tonnes CO2 from cars weighing more than 1.5 tonnes.

CO2 emissions of the transportation system in Poland are growing at an alarming rate. In 1990, Poles emitted 22.2 tonnes CO2 in the atmosphere – now this figure is over 70 tonnes per year. Poland can include transport emissions in the ETS system, i.e. the European Emissions Trading Scheme, but prevention is better than cure – this medical principle applies also to ecology. The electric car market in Poland is still in its infancy: there are plans for governmental subsidies for the purchase of such cars, but it is still not available on a mass scale.

What is more, many Polish cars do not qualify to enter the Green Zones. Such areas, popular in the German cities, restrict entry for cars that do not meet certain requirements in terms of exhaust fumes and emissions. In Poland, such a zone was introduced only on a very small scale in Kraków, but this will hopefully change in the future.

Energy sources in Poland – what drives Poland?

The Polish energy mix

Interestingly, this is not a name of a stimulating drink. The term is used to describe the sources from which Poland derives its energy. In 2020, Poland produced a total of 152,208 GWH of energy from primary sources. 47% of this total was provided by hard coal, 24.9% by lignite, 9.1% by natural gas, and 1.6% by petroleum. The remaining 10.75% came from renewable energy sources (RES). Compared to the European Union, Poland produces nearly 2 times less energy from RES sources: the EU average for RES is 18.87%.

According to the 2019 KOBIZE report, Poland produced a total of over 107 megatons CO2 from all fuel-based installations. This is a twelve-digit number which definitely needs to decrease in the future.

RES in Poland – wind of change

What renewable energy sources are the most popular in Poland? Wind turbines – they account for producing 65% of Poland’s energy from green sources. Interestingly, since 2016 the situation of onshore wind turbines in Poland has changed significantly by introduction of a low prohibiting the construction of such turbines within 2 km of any forests and buildings. Thus, 99% of Poland’s land was completely excluded from the possibility of building and developing wind power plants. However, Poland focuses on offshore wind turbines – thanks to the country’s convenient location on the map of Europe, Poland can do without land-based power plants and build them far from the shore. Offshore wind power plants are the Polish government’s recipe for achieving the goal of obtaining 21% of energy from RES, which has been set for 2030.

Photovoltaics in Poland – Poland shines bright in Europe!

Poland’s position on the European photovoltaic market is worth noting. Considering the amount of energy produced, only Spain, the Netherlands and Germany are ahead of Poland. Every year, the photovoltaic market in Poland grows by about 35%! There are regular subsidies and tax deductions for people setting up photovoltaic installations privately. Companies can also count on governmental help, and the advanced prosumer market is another incentive to switch to the solar side of power.

Industry in Poland – an overview

What is the main industry in Poland? Poland is divided into different regions based on its varied geographical conditions. Heavy industries (mines and manufacturing plants) dominate in the south. In large cities, the main source of income is the service sector. It will probably come as no surprise that Poland is the biggest potato producer in the EU, and Polish apples travel around the globe. In the past, Poland was also known for coal production, but now it often has problems selling the surplus from its own extraction.

The previously mentioned high percentage of cars in Poland is reflected in the car factories in the country. Among the big car producers, Volkswagen, MAN, Scania and Opel have their plants in Poland.

The list of the largest Polish companies is dominated by those from the sectors of raw materials, fuel and energy. The unrivalled position of the leader in Polish industry is held by the Polish oil concern Orlen from Płock, followed by Lotos refinery from Gdańsk. Further places on the list of the leading Polish companies are occupied by companies from energy sector, which deal with energy production and distribution.

What can be done to lower CO2 emissions in Poland?

Reducing CO2 is a task we must undertake together. Our success in achieving climate goals depends as much on the government as it does on businesses and individuals – without multifaceted cooperation, we have no chance of reducing our emissions.

This article stated clearly that the statistical Polish citizen uses car much more often than other Europeans. Poles are also a carnivorous nation – only about 3% of the Polish population declares to be on a meat-free diet. Consumption of meat and dairy products contributes significantly to our CO2 emissions. Going vegan would save the planet up to 2/3 of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Such a goal seems unrealistic, but it is important to at least create a trend: you can join many initiatives such as Veganuary and try to eat healthier for yourself and the planet for at least one month a year.

What can be done about the emissions that have not been reduced? You can offset them, for example by buying TerGo packages. Each package funds trees that absorb CO2. By purchasing TerGo packages, you are contributing to the creation of better jobs in Belize, support local farmers, fund the restoration of biodiversity in the wastelands, and most importantly, contribute to the restoration of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Last but not least: TerGo is a team of international experts working in Belize, Canada and the USA, with one of the offices based in Poland.

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