1 June 2022

It’s clear that climate change is an inescapable part of our lives. Here in Poland, away from the Atlantic gales, it is, however, less noticeable than on the British Isles. Here, the change manifests itself more subtly in the form of extreme weather events that tend to happen with increasing frequency. Nothing Poland hasn’t seen before, only occurring a couple of times a decade rather than once a century.

BPCC’s green blog:

COP26 – after the party, the fallout
Car fleets, driving to work and ESG
Communicating the Green Imperative within your firm
How green is your office?
The Green Canteen
Remake, remodel – remanufacture?
Nudging the consumer towards a greener way of life
The Green Transformation and business – top-down or bottom-up?

Three types of extreme weather events in particular – strong winds, floods (caused by heavy rain that the soil can’t absorb), and droughts. The third brings with it risk of food shortages and forest fire.

All three call for robust engineering solutions and well-planned infrastructure.

Frequent strong winds mean trees falling onto roads, railway tracks and power lines. Over time, trees will evolve, adapting to stronger winds, growing longer roots. And so the trees that tend to blow over today are usually mature ones, not used to the increasingly regular battering they receive as winds get stronger. For urban planners, highways agencies and rail track operators, this means removing trees from harm’s way, frequent pruning and planting new trees with forethought.

Dealing with floods is a bigger problem. Our towns and cities have turned into concrete bowls, water has nowhere to run off. Floods in Germany and China which last year claimed hundreds of lives show just how much is at stake.

I have observed the modernisation of the Warsaw-Radom railway line and the construction of the S7 extension south of Warsaw, and I’m impressed by how much thought and solid engineering has gone into making Poland’s new infrastructure flood-proof. Deep drainage ditches, culverts, retention ponds, and pumping stations have been built at huge cost to ensure that the even the heaviest rains flow off the road surfaces, and that railway embankments and cuttings aren’t washed away. But this comes at a cost – the ditches are lined with concrete, the culverts made of concrete; concrete is the construction sector’s biggest single contributor to greenhouse gases. Ditches that aren’t lined with concrete quickly choke with weeds and rushes, blocking the water’s run-off. These need regular maintenance – usually by crews using petrol-powered strimmers and mowers.

Drought is associated with higher food prices and forest fires. Poland – most of which lies on a large, flat, plain – is prone to suffer water shortages. Collecting floodwater in retention ponds for use in irrigation is the answer, at micro- and macro levels. Every garden ought to have a large water-butt or two to store rainwater, and householders should use that rather than hose-pipes to pump drinking water onto plants. Agriculture also needs to invest in irrigation ditches that connect retention ponds to crop-bearing fields. The root cause of increasing drought in Poland is the reduction of snow cover caused by global warming, which means that by the spring, the water table is often lower than it should be.

Government’s role in promoting best practice to alleviate climate-change-related droughts and floods should extend to more than just the occasional advice for householders and smallholders to dig ponds. As always, we should look for the low-hanging fruit, the quick wins which give the greatest benefit for lowest cost – but, as in the case of the concrete-lined ditches – we should be mindful of the total, long-term, environmental cost too.

What can businesses do? Plan for drought, build storage facilities onsite for rain-water, using this as far as possible for flushing toilets and other non-drinking uses of water.

Poland’s urban sprawl, caused by hundreds of thousands of new houses built on the edge of cities, needs closer attention from the point of view of drought and flood. Planning permission is given too freely – new estates spring up without thought as to drainage and optimisation of water use.

Americans in south-western states have long been accustomed to limits on household water supply; this may well become the norm across Poland before too very long.

The Green Blog by Michael Dembinski

Day 1: BPCC’s green blog on COP 26 in Glasgow
Day 2: Methane emission pledge hailed as success on second day of COP26
Day 3: Coal and climate finance are the focus of the third day of COP26
Day 4: Youth activism flavours fourth day of COP26
Day 7: Barack Obama’s speech highlighted start of second week of COP26
Day 8: Gender equality – focus of eighth day of COP26 – overshadowed by new heat calculation
Day 10&11: China-US ‘breakthrough’ as final statement is hammered out
Summary: COP26 disappoints with the loss of strong commitment