Polish Smog Alert are hoping to scoop the Earthshot Prize at a ceremony in Singapore on Tuesday for their work in dramatically reducing emissions in their home country.
The group was set up by campaigners Anna Dworakowska, Andrzej GuÅa and Ewa Lutomska in 2012 with the aim of reducing air pollution in Krakow, which was previously the third-most polluted city in Europe. They have since forced a string of major policy changes, including a ban on using coal and wood in house boilers in 2016 and the introduction of the city’s Low Emission Zone last year – the first in central and eastern Europe.
Polish citizens frequently use coal and wood burners to heat their homes, causing great clouds of smog and releasing harmful pollutants. Around 40,000 Poles die each year from pollution-related illnesses, according to the group’s calculations.
Speaking to the Standard from Singapore, Ms Dworakowska said the expansion of the Ulez to all boroughs of London was a “bold and necessary move” that would save thousands of lives.
“London has always been an example to us in terms of our campaigning. In 1952, the great smog of London triggered action to tackle emissions from coal heating. The introduction of Ulez is similar, and it is already having an impact by letting millions of people breathe cleaner air.”
People who drive in the Ulez in a vehicle that does not meet minimum emissions standards are now required to pay a £12.50 daily fee or risk a £180 fine, reduced to £90 if paid within 14 days.
The expansion of the scheme sparked a furious backlash in Tory-controlled outer London boroughs and was blamed for Labour’s defeat in the Uxbridge by-election in July. Critics have claimed that the policy unfairly punished poorer families who cannot afford to buy newer, greener vehicles.
Mr GuÅa said of the backlash: “I understand why some people are unhappy. We went through this process in Krakow and it was very difficult to convince policymakers to focus on this issue, but ultimately this is about human health and protecting people.
“The key is making sure that the public have access to high quality data and information. In Krakow, you couldn’t even take your children outside because the air was so dirty and smelly. There were thousands of people who were willing to take to the streets to demand change, but they just needed a movement to coalesce around.”
Improvements in air quality brought about by Polish Smog Alert’s policy changes have seen the number of premature deaths in Poland fall by 20 per cent.
William flew to Singapore on Sunday by a commercial, not private flight to make the event as sustainable as possible. Hosting the night will be Hannah Waddingham, who performed similar duties when Liverpool staged the Eurovision Song Contest earlier this year.
The competition has five categories, and the winners will receive £1 million each to scale up their environmental ideas.
Among the other 15 finalists are Enso, a British based company which has created a more efficient electric vehicle tyre that sheds less particles, while Sea Forest from Australia has developed a seaweed-based livestock feed to reduce the planet warming methane emissions from cattle and sheep.