Environmentalist: Beijing-like levels are thing of past but more must still be done to combat smog

Brno, photo: CTK

A smog alert has been declared in Prague for the second time this year and many other parts of the Czech Republic have also suffered heavy and sustained air pollution in recent months. While forecasters say weather conditions in the coming days may alleviate the situation, what is to be done to combat smog – which kills thousands of people every year – in the longer term? I discussed efforts to improve the situation with environmentalist Vojtěch Kotecký from the think tank Glopolis.

Vojtěch Kotecký,  photo: Ondřej Vrtiška
“The government has taken several different initiatives. It supports people who are willing to buy new stoves to replace the old coke-fuelled stoves that are the main cause of pollution in rural areas.

“It has been working with industry in those parts of the country where heavy industry like steel and iron is the key source of air pollution.

“But a large of the responsibility for dealing with air pollution is with cities and city councils. Because in Prague, Brno and other big cities car traffic is the main cause of air pollution.”

The Czech National Institute for Public Health estimates that around 5,000 deaths a year in the Czech Republic are caused by smog and the European Environment Agency says that actual number of deaths is more than double that number. Given that it’s major public health issue, is enough being done to combat the problem?

“Definitely not. We have just started dealing with the current level of air pollution and cities must take a much stronger role in dealing with local air pollution.

“They must take decisive initiatives in curbing pollution from car traffic.

“And the government needs to start thinking about bolder initiatives for dealing with rural pollution.

“Because while its programme to replace old coal-fuelled stoves has been a relative success, it is primarily focused on middle class families.

“It needs to start working with other people like senior citizens, who are not able to replace their old stoves themselves and need more than just a contribution towards the cost of replacement.”

Why do you think cities and towns have been so slow to take actions, given that the problem has been around for decades?

“In fact when you look at the last 25 years in the Czech Republic we have actually been able to cut smog substantially.

Brno,  photo: CTK
“We are facing major air pollution in the country right now, but nevertheless the situation 20 or 25 years ago was much, much worse.

“In the late 1980s and 1990s acid rain literally killed almost 1,000 square kilometres of forest and extremely heavy Beijing-style smog was an annual experience for people in big cities and some industrial areas.

“We were able to cut sulphur dioxide emissions in the Czech Republic by 93 percent since 1990.

“So we have already dealt with a major part of the problem.

“At the same time the 1990s experience shows that if there is decisive action from the government, like the 1991 clean air act, we are able to deal with these sources of pollution.”