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Launch of the Green Economics Institute in Poland,January 2008: By Bogusia Igielska Founder and Director of the Green Economics Institute Poland.

The Green Economics Institute is setting up a branch in Poland by its Director Bogusia Iglielska

Below are a few words about the current situation in Poland to explain how the work of the Institute will make a contribution to change.

Poland, a country which underwent many years of totalitarian regime, then confronted very rapid and radical transformation of the national economic system for years neglected its environment. Everything was dictated by one goal - to achieve the level of development equal to Western countries in the shortest possible time span. As a result the government was not at all interested in environmental issues and participation of the 'green' movement in political life has been vastly marginalised. And so was the Third Sectors that for years after communism collapsed was virtually non existing.

Nonetheless, as the economy was growing and the quality of life was increasing, so was the green and social movement. The EU integration that released of substantial structural funds to improve Poland's social and environmental standards, has raised green issues up the political agenda and broke the political wall NGOs were facing in Poland for years. Joining the EU has brought many significant changes in both, green movement and the third sector leading to their gradual maturation and professionalization. And even though green movement is still primarily associated with environment only, new cultural and social values are more often part of the green paradigm. Incorporating green issues in political and social agenda in Poland is, as Polish sociologist professor Piotr Glinski once said ‘on the road: from an elitist isolated counter-culture to civil society; from the emotive to the pragmatic; and, finally, from informal spontaneity to mature institutionalization and professionalisation'. But on the road means that there is still much to be done and the space for improvement is still large.

As statistics show, Poland suffers from under-development of civil society. 12% of Poles is a member of NGO or CSO (TNS OBOP2007) but the number of those organizations is small, the range of actions too little and vaguely connected to each other. Next, civil society suffers from a negative financial situation, not being treated as serious partners of dialogue and their claims are rarely taken into account by the government. This is with no doubt linked to a low level of civil consciousness about the most urgent social and environmental problems. Without a rapid increase in awareness of those issues the changes are not about to take place as fast as they should. Unfortunately, the amount of government's spending on education, a particularly environmental education is still too little. And even though academic institutions do their best to get involved, their research and studies very often does not reach general public.

Ambiguity of legal framework, weakness and ineffectiveness of enforcement institutions is another obstacle on the way to sustainability. Law leaving space for interpretation together with an ineffective and slow execution of regulations often leads to an abuse of power in Poland. Difficult job market situation, where over 12% of population is unemployed leads to lack of equilibrium between work supply and demand which allows employers to disregard of employees and frequently results in breaking labour laws.

Lack of the trust of the society exists not only towards public institutions but also business. Realization of social and environmental goals by private owned companies is sparkling disbelief and is connected almost entirely with marketing activities. The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility did not yet evolved its own approach in Poland and even though it has been slowly induced by EU institutions and western business community, CRS still stays in contradiction to Polish perception of business activities. Perception of social and environmental issues is marginal and irrelevant to core business activities and strategies. Additionally, earlier mentioned weakness of potential social partners (or opponents) like NGOs does not deliver any incentive (positive or negative) for companies to behave in responsible way. The vague legal framework and high level of corruption that Poland is constantly straggling with, are creating situation in which effective functioning of business hardly depends on good relations with stakeholders.

This briefing clearly shows that, even though Poland has gone a long way from communist to democratic country, there is yet enormous work to be done. Further development of a social network allowing for exchange of the knowledge, good practices and broader experience connected to green - social and environmental issues - is required. Such a network should include nongovernmental organizations, campaigners and media, academic institutions, governments, international organizations and civil society. And as the Green Economics Institute aims at bringing all those together, it is not only warmly welcomed but urgently needed in Poland.

Posted on behalf of Bogusia Igielska Founder and Director Green Economics Institute Poland

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