Taking into account your research interests and your scientific achievements, I would like to know how you understand sustainable development?
Thank you for this question, because it’s actually an introductory question for any talk about sustainable development. I’m a lawyer by education, and I’m probably also a lawyer by nature, so for me the understanding of sustainable development is normative, legalistic. We have the Act on Environmental Protection, the concept of sustainable development appears in the third article. It is, one might say, not very juridical. Why am I saying that? Because it is a descriptive definition that is difficult to apply for judges and the judiciary. Therefore, here, in this normative or legal definition, sustainable development is defined as socio-economic development in which the process of the integration of political, economic and social activities takes place while maintaining natural balance and the durability of basic natural processes. All of this is done in order to ensure that the basic needs of the international community are met, both of this generation, us and future generations. Concluding this normative presentation of sustainable development, it should be said that it’s based on several pillars: natural, environmental, social and economic ones. It is worth emphasising that the definition of sustainable development also appears in other disciplines. It is important that lawyers, judges, attorneys and prosecutors interpret this definition well, because their interpretation will determine the application of the law and the implementation of sustainable development. What eludes many people in this definition is the subject. Who is all this to be preserved for? For what subjects? For us and for future generations? For lawyers, very important information appears at this point, not only that future generations are empowered and have some rights, and therefore lawyers or solicitors can’t think only about what is good for me here today, but about whether it will be good in 50, 100 years for successors or residents of this municipality, children or great-grandchildren, etc. This definition provides guidance on how to understand sustainable development. Besides, as a lawyer, I should actually start with the Constitution, because in the fifth article of our Constitution we introduce sustainable development as a systemic principle and the fifth article at the beginning of the Constitution, which talks about the most important matters, that the Republic guards the independence and inviolability of its territory, ensures freedom and human and civil rights as well as the security of citizens, protects the national heritage and, and this is where our field comes into play, ensures environmental protection pursuant to the principle of sustainable development. So, please note, among the main rights and obligations of the Republic of Poland, there are both the concept of sustainable development and a clear interpretative guideline: the Republic of Poland ensures environmental protection in accordance with the principle of sustainable development.
It is very interesting, I think few people know that there is such a provision in the Constitution.
Yes, but this provision means that we don’t protect the environment as a priority, and environmental protection should be consistent with sustainable development. So the protection of the environment must take into account the right to economic development, which implies that sometimes it’s necessary to give up the protection of nature or the environment in favour of economic development. And environmental protection is to take heed of social needs. So what if we come up with a landfill or waste incineration plant. It is obvious that it must be located somewhere, and sometimes in a given municipality the social needs are different, e.g. the municipality is applying for the status of a health resort and in this municipality and in the buffer zone of this municipality there can’t be such facilities protecting the environment against waste, such as an incinerator or a landfill. Therefore, this is what I emphasise, which people do not pay attention to, that sustainable development is environmental protection, but it is in quotation marks “tempered” by sustainable development, to protect the environment at the same time caring for economic development and social needs.
Yes, indeed, because we most often think about climate protection when we mean sustainable development, and, as the name suggests, this is supposed to be sustainable development.
Yes, all international definitions go in this direction to rationally and reasonably protect the environment, not forgetting that there are also other areas of life, such as the economy and society. Besides, we need money to protect the environment, and who will generate it? Only economic activity.
All these are interrelated. I really liked what you’ve said about the subject, about the future generations. This is also the specificity of legal norms that someone has the right and someone else has a duty. Do you conduct research related to the areas of sustainable development?
Oh yes. In fact, please note that the name of the department which I have headed for over twenty years, perhaps 24 years, is economic, public law and environment protection. This research has been related to ecology, the ecological side of economic activity, what limits economic activity from an ecological point of view, and there are some different factors there. My latest research concerns climate, climate protection law, international, EU and Polish standards, because this is the order in which they came to us. Climate protection is not only air protection, which appeared in Polish standards as early as the 1960s. There are also other factors and this climate protection came to us from international law. And now I am dealing with the European Green Deal, the responsibilities of states in implementing the European Green Deal.
Could you say something more about this latest project?
This is a new idea that came to the European Union after Ursula von der Leyen became a new President of the European Commission in December 2019, and this Green Deal started from the European Climate Law. Various climate protection regulations were promulgated in spring 2020, and climate protection standards are still being worked on, which emphasise this economic activity that doesn’t have a negative impact on the climate. Economic activity promoted and financed by the Union is the one that will not adversely affect the climate, will not emit gases and will not produce waste. It’s supposed to be a closed economy, so-called circular, reuse of materials, the fight against plastic. The Union wants to make the obligation of the European Union countries not to use plastic even stricter. Here, by the way, I’ll say that in the case of sustainable development and the Green Deal, the European Union is a leader in the world because it signs and accepts all the largest international conventions on matters seemingly related only to environmental protection. I’m talking here about the 1992 climate protection convention, the so-called the Climate Convention, the Convention on the Protection of Biological Diversity also from 1992, the Paris Climate Agreement from 2015. The three universal conventions that I’ve mentioned have been ratified by over 100 countries. The European Union, as an integrating organisation, assumed an obligation to raise the standards in the conventions under study in order to introduce even more stringent standards and certificates. The Union carries quite a heavy burden. This new European Deal is an idea at the European level, supported and developed by many experts. You can’t pick holes in it. However, meeting these obligations is left to states. Member states are to bear this burden of implementing the New Deal, and the Union, through the European Environment Agency, is primarily to supervise, monitor and control. And in the Green Deal the EU set this ambitious goal that by 2050 we are to be climate neutral, and by 2030, i.e. 20 years earlier, over 80% of energy is to be obtained from RES. Unfortunately, there are no clear funding rules for this transformation towards the Green Deal. Of course, this renewable energy, especially sea-based, area-based and massive-scale hydrogen technologies are being encouraged. They are being tested in the EU to generate energy from renewable sources, while Poland wants to return to nuclear power plants. On the other hand, in the EU, there is a tendency to abandon nuclear power, but it also depends on the state, because while Germany has closed nuclear power plants, France uses its nuclear power plants, because it has over 50, 55–56 of them. France has no problem meeting the goal of climate neutrality in 2050. It is certain that we have to give up coal.
Exactly. This is one of our biggest and most difficult problems to solve.
Yes, yes. More social than economic, because please note that from the economic point of view, we are doing well. Even a few days ago, when the Bełchatów power plant went out, we immediately imported additional energy from Germany and Sweden. So such international cooperation is possible when someone fares badly. On the other hand, the social problem with energy is of this kind: what to do with the miners, with their families, with the whole of Silesia, how to find employment for these people? Here you can see this “limping” sustainable development, that there is no recipe for it yet.
It’s also probably connected with the miners’ culture, their traditions.
You are right to emphasise this point. Yes, these traditions are really important there. Once, I was at a conference in Silesia and a beer inn was organised as part of the integration evening. I hadn’t seen anything like this before. It was an integrating event on a huge scale. Lots of people, lots of alcohol and good food, mainly beer, and company. Mining families do cherish these traditions.
As you have noticed, achieving SDGs by 2030-2050 will be difficult. I see a certain danger here related to the economic situation of individual EU countries. It is very diverse and leaving the attainment of the goals of sustainable development to the EU countries is perhaps an overly optimistic solution. What do you think about it?
Well, I think you’re on the right track. Due to the pandemic, the economy of many countries in Europe is at risk, it’s not as good as the EU authorities would expect, and it’s even more visible in different statistics that after the pandemic both inflation and employment as well as GDP increases are very different. The variety of economic positions of countries may result in a variety of decisions regarding the implementation of the Green Deal.
Exactly, 2030 is too optimistic a date. Let’s take a look at the situation in our country, for example.
Yes. Definitely yes. And yet the Green Deal is just a very good-sounding slogan. Let me remind you that in the 1980s there was such a new international economic strategy. There was one lawyer who did habilitation, the New International Economic Order, an economic strategy with a very similar name. It failed.
Yes, the New International Economic Order. Although many countries of the West and the East endorsed the UN concept, it wasn’t implemented at all. In my opinion, too many goals are set in the Green Deal at the moment, because it’s impossible to be very good economically, while satisfying the needs of all social groups, especially educational, liberal, cultural ones, and the needs related to nature conservation. You can’t enforce the acceleration of economic growth, because if the economy is being boosted strongly, then social issues will be left behind. Environmental probably too.
So we’re coming back to the concept of sustainable development again. Even when it comes to the economy, it must also be sustainable. And what role do you think education and awareness-raising can play in implementing the Agenda’s goals? Do you take up this subject in your teaching activity?
When it comes to education, I’ve always seen two obstacles in fostering sustainable development and environmental protection. First – environmental education, second – financing. These are absolutely two factors that slow down the pace of introduced changes. If you’re talking about education, environmental education is obligatory from the legal point of view, i.e. there’s an obligation in the “Act on Environmental Protection” that in schools at different levels there should be lessons devoted to these issues. Some universities respect this very much and they teach about environmental protection law in all fields of study. If we disseminate environmental education, we’ll at the same time instil environmental ethics in students, true, they’ll have certain values in mind and these values won’t allow them to compromise the goals of environmental protection in their professional and private lives. And this is where education is extremely important. Have I dealt with it? Yes, to be honest, for quite a long time, because there were a lot of classes on sustainable development in the nineties at the university, especially at the Faculty of Law. At that time, the Spatial Planning acts and the Building Law Act introduced a very clear obligation for planning and construction to conform to eco-development, because this term was used at that time. Today, this term has been changed in these legal acts, and sustainable development has replaced eco-development.
And what actions, do you think, should be undertaken at our university in the field of sustainable development goals?
We can actually pursue SDGs at any field of study. As we know there are over 80 fields, and these seventeen SDGs can in fact be reduced to three. The first one – sustainable economic growth and development based on knowledge and organisational excellence. This is the curriculum of many fields of study, for example our Faculty of Economics, our Faculty of Management. The economic sphere is represented here and in this sustainable development the emphasis is placed on building a strong industry, coherent, comprehensive investments, especially currently investing in innovation, in the expansion of Polish business, green business, green public procurement. Please note that these Economic Faculties are the addressees of this education. When I look through studies, especially from the management faculty, there is a very modern curriculum there and they see this sustainable development in economic processes and in the economics of various industries. This is one group of faculties, but in the second group we’ll be able to easily pursue the second goal of sustainable development, i.e. sensitive and territorially balanced development, development that accepts social cohesion as a condition of an economy that should be characterised by a high level of employment. This goal is pursued primarily at the Faculty of Social Sciences, but the implementation of the elements of sustainable development is visible in all faculties. It’s actually the education framework for all types and fields of study. Well, now the third goal. It is related to the achievement of an effective state and institutions conductive to growth as well as social and economic inclusion. This goal is taught in the fields of study at the Faculty of Law, but also at the Faculty of Social Sciences. It is the third leg of sustainable development. We can’t forget about biology, because biologists naturally deal with the issues of environmental protection and sustainable development. After all, our biologists very often prepare opinions for courts. I’ve recently read the opinions of biologists about harming the environment and nature on the Hel Peninsula where camping sites are. The owners of the campsites expanded them by appropriating the shoreline, or by adding sand, adding more meters of beach, thereby destroying some plant habitats. These cases ended in prosecution and court proceedings, and the court asked our biologists to give their opinion on sand-dumping: is it environmental protection or is it an expansive economy. They unequivocally stated that it had affected the ecosystem, especially on the Puck Bay side and interfered with Natura 2000 sites. So, the answer to your question, what the university can do… the university can do everything and here the curricula could be improved. The staff is prepared because our employees go to international conferences and training courses, and they are up to date with all trends. The staff is prepared, there’s only a question of didactic methods to provide this environmental education, foster environmental awareness; instil this ecological ethics in the student, the future professional. This is how I would see it.
Do you think that we should have some additional subjects that would deal with issues related to sustainable development, or can we introduce them within the framework of the curricula we already teach?
The answer to this question isn’t easy, because as my previous statements show, we have subjects scattered around various faculties, fields of study, but we don’t have such subjects as, for example, the law of sustainable development. By teaching this subject, we could make students of all faculties aware that sustainable development is a whole and they, while studying selected elements of economy or biology, can’t only look at their priority, but should see their role in socio-economic development as a whole. I would simply call this subject “The Law of Sustainable Development”. Anyway, the shorter the name of the subject, the more capacious and legible it is, so maybe just such a university-wide lecture, maybe even obligatory, should be a clamp. The following would be presented: legal regulations in Poland, in our Constitution, in laws, as well as what comes from the European Union in the form of regulations, directives, resolutions and what comes from the world, from conferences and international conventions. In such a subject, “The Law of Sustainable Development”, one could also present the concepts of sustainable development from the point of view of other sciences. One part would be the general one, showing the institutional framework for sustainable development, which is what I’ve said before. The other part would detail this sustainable development according to various disciplines and fields of study. This is how I would see it.
Thank you. I think this subject is a great idea. It could be a certain module where everyone could join in, present issues related to sustainable development from the point of view of various disciplines.
Because the easiest way to introduce it is precisely within these subjects, university-wide lectures. I don’t know how many credits they carry, but if you gave a lot of credits to “The Law of Sustainable Development” at the same time, it would mean that most students would enrol and come, so in the future they would have a normative basis and a framework for sustainable development provided.
I’d like to go back to the Goals of the 2030 Agenda for a moment. What main barriers and challenges in relation to the Goals of the 2030 Agenda do you notice?
The main challenge is energy policy. Please note that this has already been reflected in our project of the Polish energy policy 2040. In fact, it’s written there that it’s to be a climate-neutral policy and that this neutrality is to be achieved through forests, absorption of carbon dioxide. After all, the European Union is introducing such solutions. Afforestation subsidies are already being granted. All these private forest owners now have an application deadline of some time in June and they receive a subsidy for keeping the wooded area wooded rather than clearing it up for parcels of various kinds. If we’re talking about energy coming from the sea, from wind, then of course we can build wind farms, we will, but fishermen from Ustka are protesting because these fisheries in the vicinity of wind farms will be inaccessible to fishermen, for sea fishing. Consequently, they will bear the costs (as a social group) of wind energy. There is always some great plan, but on the other hand, it shows the flip side of the coin, the difficulty of getting it done. Please note that it’s also supposed to be green here, there should be green forests. Everyone can see what Masuria is like, everyone knows, forests and lakes, but now, for better transport there is to be a road from Olsztyn to Białystok through lakes there, so that there is better transport. But what do roads bring? Certainly increased traffic, noise, waste, vibrations, interference in these ecosystems, and even interference in the landscape. After all, today’s environmental protection is based on the fact that landscape conditions are also extremely important, which means that these aren’t easy decisions. Our students must be prepared for such decisions, once they work professionally, in order to make them judiciously and consider what is in the overriding public interest. Such a category is in law. We remember the famous case with the Rospuda Valley. What was in the overriding public interest at the time, the protection of the Rospuda Valley, where the priority species of musk orchid grew, or a ring road for Augustów leading to Suwałki and the Baltic states? Here it was necessary to consider what was in overriding public interest and that was considered, right? There were protests, environmentalists and others began to be involved, and an alternative variant was found. A 17 km longer road, but respecting the Rospuda Valley, respecting nature. Preparing our graduates to make economic and social decisions is our didactic goal. Equipping them with such multifaceted, comprehensive knowledge that shows various aspects of a given issue. It’s not that only one thing is sacrosanct. I will come back to where we started our conversation, Art. 5 of the Constitution – Environmental Protection, that the Republic of Poland ensures environmental protection in line with sustainable development, which means that sometimes the environment has to be sacrificed for the sake of economic decisions.
Yes, it’s true and it seems very important to me to bring the society round to certain issues, because one thing is to make a decision, but the other is to get social support. I think it’s extremely important in our case.
Well, you raised this important issue, even regulations necessitate it, in Poland we have a law that requires public participation in decision-making and this law is a mirror image of the Aarhus Convention, a European convention that also requires consulting the public. There is an obligation for the public to participate in decisions concerning environmental protection, etc. The obligation is there, it’s up to us how we will fulfil it. Why am I saying that? Because when the Nord Stream was being built, there was an obligation to get to know public opinion, because as I mentioned, the Aarhus Convention is binding for European countries and the community of our three coastal provinces was asked for their opinion. An advertisement was placed in Gazeta Wyborcza, Pomeranian, West Pomeranian and Warmian-Masurian voivodship offices from 22 December 2007 to 11 January 2008. Maybe a year earlier. In any case, it was so cleverly devised by lawyers or managers to ask the public between Christmas Eve and sometimes after Epiphany. Who of us at this time pays attention to what is happening outside? I presented it somewhere in a paper long ago in the Senate of the Republic of Poland that social engineering was used so that the opinion of society was positive.
It is always done like this. Unfortunately.
Unfortunately yes. We have Nord Stream one, the public did not protest.
They didn’t comment, and we have Nord Stream two now, don’t we.
I have one last question. Which of the goals of sustainable development is the most important for you and why?
There are seventeen of these goals, but for me the goals related to environmental protection are the most important, because it’s not only water protection, climate protection, but also the protection of natural processes, i.e. nature, and this is mentioned in several goals. Are you asking me here which goal is chosen by me …
There can be several.
I’d say there are several of these goals. Definitely one of them, I think the seventh – clean and affordable energy, which we’ve already talked about a little, then the thirteenth – activities in the field of climate protection, the fourteenth – life below water, yes, it is very important, after all, whether we say, I won’t interpret it anymore, or life on land – fifteen and goal six – clean water and sanitation, and the twelfth – economy, consumption and production, so here it pertains to organic farming, food security is at play. It is this broad framework of the legal protection of the environment. There are nearly 50 acts of various types and they sometimes overlap. Their application pursues SDGs. And these environmental goals contain climate protection, energy, protection of waters against pollution, protection of fauna and flora in general against pollution, life on land, that is, protection of arable land; water, sanitation, and this responsible consumption and production. Thus, environmental goals are important for me and there are six of them. So if we have seventeen minus six, we are left with eleven other goals to be divided into social and economic matters. You can even see these in the statistics here, right, these three pillars of sustainable development. Six environmental goals and eleven divided into two, that is, there will be six economic and five social goals. Here, even in this construction of the goals of sustainable development, these tiles, because they’re presented in the form of tiles, you can see this tripod and the pillars of sustainable development.
Thank you very much for a very interesting conversation.
The interview was carried out by Elżbieta Czapka, PhD