Air quality is still not improving in the Czech Republic, although it is subsidised by the EU and the Czech state

Press release to audit No 18/04 - 28. 1. 2019

The Supreme Audit Office (SAO) examined the funds allocated for the improvement of air quality between 2015 and 2017. It focused on European subsidies from the Operational Programme ‘Environment’ (OPE) and state aid from the National Programme ‘Environment’. A total of CZK 10.6 billion have been verified at the system level which were earmarked by the Ministry of the Environment for the improvement of air quality from 2015 to 2018. The SAO also checked 21 projects for CZK 3.82 billion given to beneficiaries. Air quality has not improved in the audited years. The values for some of the main pollutants continue to exceed the limits set by law, which means there is a risk that the Czech Republic’s emission limits will not be met by 2020.

The Czech Republic has set the national emission limits as of 2020 that were impossible to exceed. However, the pace of emission reductions is slowing down, and the limits may therefore fail to be met. The fine particles of the major pollutant decreased by 12% between 2005 and 2016. However, to meet the limits, the emissions would need to be reduced by further 42% by 2020.

According to auditors, sufficient and timely implementation of measures that the Czech Republic has set in its priorities for improvement of the air situation does not work. Seven out of 23 measures were not met on time even by the end of the audit in September 2018. For example, this concerns reducing the share of fossil fuels in local space heating, speeding up the replacement of passenger car fleets, or using more alternative propulsion solutions for freight. While six additional measures are being implemented on a continuous basis, they are likely not to be completed in a timely manner.

The OPE subsidies for improving the air quality focus mainly on replacing outdated boilers with low emission heating sources. The Ministry allocated CZK 6.4 billion from the EU funds over the audited years. These appropriations should cover a replacement of at least 57 thousand boilers. However, this is only 10% of the total estimate of the number of obsolete boilers in the Czech Republic. This is likely to be improved only after 2022 when the 1st and 2nd emission class boilers are no longer compliant. Also, it depends on how the ban on such boilers will be respected and also on its enforceability.

Air quality values are obtained from monitoring stations run by the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute (CHMI). Although the current network meets the minimum requirements for the number of stations under the EU and Czech law, the CHMI does not have a concept for further extension of the network and renewal of the stations. The number of measuring stations affects the accuracy of the interpretation of air quality data. For example, as regards one of the main pollutants — benzo(a)pyrene - the number of measuring stations for this pollutant increased from 22 to 25 between 2014 and 2017. However, the CHMI does not consider a further increase in the number of stations until 2020.

The State Environmental Fund (SEF) distributes money to support the improvement of air quality also from the National Programme. However, according to the auditors, they do not monitor the money in question and do not assess whether the projects that received the aid have a real impact on the improvement of the air quality. In addition, the SEF also did not set measurable objectives, according to which individual projects and the entire programme could be evaluated. For some beneficiaries, auditors found shortcomings in public procurement.

According to the SAO, the Ministry of the Environment should closely cooperate with Poland in the preparation of the national air quality improvement measures. The transboundary pollution by harmful substances in the air is, under certain dispersion conditions, a significant source of air pollution in certain regions of the Czech Republic.

Communication Department
Supreme Audit Office

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