The past decade has witnessed a dramatic increase in environmental concern in Poland (Figure 9.1). Since 1990 there has been greater freedom of access to previously unobtainable information and the development of an ecological movement which has influenced considerable changes in public opinion. One of Poland's early post-communist priorities during the transition to a market economy was to tackle its environmental problems. Environmental protection has been given a much higher pre-eminence, due to serious problems inherited from the communist past with air pollution, inadequate water treatment and contaminated soil. Untreated industrial discharges, unmarked toxic waste dumps and unacceptable water supplies are found throughout the country. The early efforts were focused on specific chronic environmental cases; later endeavours were concerned with the provision of more long-term solutions linked to sustainable environmental management (Clarke and Cole, 1998).
The Polish government itself proved the main stimulus in trying to overcome the ecological crisis. This involved setting into motion major conceptual changes for policy implementation at the national level, through establishing environmental goals and the creation of an institutional support system. In conjunction with these developments, subnational policies were introduced at the regional and local levels. The lower administrative levels have become increasingly important as greater emphasis in Polish society has been placed on environmental decision-making (Warner, 1999). The aim of this chapter is to discover how much progress has been made in solving Poland's environmental problems during the 1990s. This will involve some appreciation of state environmental policy, the impact of major polluting factors, the role of biodiversity and nature conservation and character of environmental movements in the country.