International alliance of cities commits to tackling air pollution

epa07912405 UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers his keynotes at the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, 11 October 2019. EPA-EFE/Ida Guldbaek Arentsen DENMARK OUT [Ida Guldbaek Arentsen/ epa]

Poor air quality causes 422,000 premature deaths deaths each year in Europe and EU member states have repeatedly been singled out for exceeding pollution thresholds. At the C40 Summit on Friday (11 October), 35 cities decided to take the matter into their own hands. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Heidelberg, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Paris, Rotterdam, Stockholm and Warsaw have all committed to set new air quality standards that meet or exceed existing national targets within two years.

The pledges were made at the C40 Summit in Copenhagen, where 35 cities from across the globe committed to protecting the environment by signing the C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration.

To achieve this goal, cities committed to establish emission-free zones, introduce more climate-neutral means of transport, improve infrastructure for cyclists, and promote alternative fuels for heating and cooking.

Cities also committed to regularly publish their air quality data.

Globally, air pollution causes seven million deaths every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). If these 35 cities consistently complied with WHO values for particulate matter (PM2.5), 40,000 deaths could be avoided every year, according to the C40.

Concentrations of PM2.5 were responsible for about 422,000 premature deaths across Europe in 2015, of which around 391,000 were in the 28 EU member states, according to  the latest data from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

23 EU countries are breaking European air quality laws

European air quality laws are being flouted in more than 130 cities across 23 of the 28 EU member states, the European Commission said yesterday (6 February).

15,000 new trees already planted in Paris

The declaration shows how cities can act as critical players when it comes to protecting the environment, according to Copenhagen’s mayor and host of the C40 conference, Frank Jensen.

“Air pollution is a global problem, but it has a local solution,” he said. “We don’t want this declaration to remain a mere slogan,” he added. “We will act consistently”.

Copenhagen has fought air pollution for many years and plans to become the world’s first climate-neutral capital by 2025. This year, the city has put 400 electric buses into service and is planning to electrify its ferries by next year.

By 2030, Denmark wants to reduce its CO2 emissions by 70%.

“Do we know how to achieve this goal? To be honest, we do not,” said the newly-elected Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen at the conference. “But if we would, a 70% target would not have been ambitious enough,” she added.

Other cities are also committed to improving the quality of their air.

In Paris, for instance, where air quality is above average, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has declared war on cars.

Since July, diesel vehicles registered before 2001 are no longer allowed to drive in the city centre. Hidalgo also plans to ban all cars with combustion engines from the downtown Paris area by 2030.

The “Grand Paris Express”, a new circular railway, is currently being built around the city and will be connected to the metro system.

In 2014, the city also started a comprehensive tree planting program and had has since planted 15,000 new trees.

Poland’s multi-billion-euro clean air quest in peril

A €25 billion clean air programme launched by the Polish government is in danger of losing EU support. Warsaw has until Friday (21 June) to prove its commitment, according to a letter sent by the European Commission and seen by EURACTIV.

EU countries repeatedly exceed air quality limits

In the EU, exhaust gas emissions are regulated by the 2008 Air Quality Directive, which was supplemented five years later by the Clean Air Package. The package sets maximum values for pollutants and sets reduction targets for 2020 and 2030.

However, cities and regions have repeatedly exceeded the permitted maximum values. As the latest air quality report from the European Environment Agency shows, 19% of measuring stations in 19 member states exceeded PM10 levels. This corresponds to the ten micrometres, the highest level of coarse particles.

When it comes to particulate matter PM2.5, the daily average was 5% higher. As a result, 42% of all Europeans in cities are exposed to particulate matter levels that exceed WHO recommendations.

Last May, following renewed calls for action against air pollution, the EU Commission had fined six EU member states. Germany, France and the UK had failed to reduce their nitrogen dioxide levels, while Hungary, Italy and Romania had repeatedly exceeded PM10 levels.

Mayors call for annual Europe-wide car-free day

The mayors of Brussels and Paris have called for an annual car-free day for all of Europe, citing initiatives in their cities that have driven down pollution. But a recent damning report by the EU Court of Auditors revealed there is plenty of work left to do.

Guterres: On the way to 3°C temperature rise

Today’s declaration by the 35 cities is not the first voluntary air pollution initiative as 25 states and eight cities had already committed to improving their air quality back in November 2018.

The WHO demands that clean air and its consequences for health be integrated more closely into the national climate plans adopted under the Paris Agreement. According to the UN, only 20% of these climate plans are currently concerned with the health consequences of air pollution.

In his speech at the C40 on Friday (11 October), UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that the national climate plans must be significantly raised and not only with regard to air pollution.

“We are on the way to a catastrophic temperature rise of three degrees or more,” said the UN Secretary-General. “We have the technology, the knowledge – what is lacking at many levels is still the political will,” he added.

Asked by EURACTIV what he thought of the fact that the EU had not yet been able to agree on the goal of climate neutrality by 2050, Guterres said:

“Most EU states have already committed themselves to this. I am waiting for the EU to do this as a whole soon and regret that we cannot do what is necessary at the moment because individual states are blocking.”

On air quality, European cities are definitely ahead of the game.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

EU's air pollution pariahs summoned to Brussels

Environment ministers from some of the EU’s worst air pollution offenders have been summoned to Brussels for an end-of-month meeting with the European Commission, where they will have to answer some tough questions.

Subscribe to our newsletters