Tag Archive: Air Pollution

  1. Air quality in Europe continues to improve, but many areas remain unsafe due to pollution

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    Source: European Environmental Agency

    Air quality in Europe has shown significant improvement over the recent decades; however, it remains a prominent environmental health concern both in Europe and globally. The latest analysis by the European Environment Agency (EEA) on air quality data from 2022 and 2023 reveals ongoing improvements in Europe’s air quality, yet many regions, particularly urban areas, still exceed recommended safety levels for pollution.

    The EEA’s briefing ‘Europe’s Air Quality Status 2024‘ delves into the concentrations of key air pollutants across Europe in 2022 and 2023, comparing them against both EU air quality standards and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. While 2022 data are finalized and validated, the 2023 analysis is based on provisional data.

    Although Europe’s air quality is improving, the EEA’s analysis indicates that EU standards are still unmet in various parts of Europe. In 2022, only 2% of monitoring stations across Europe recorded fine particulate concentrations exceeding the EU annual limit value. However, nearly all Europeans (96%) who live in cities are exposed to levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that are above WHO guideline levels.

    Fine particulate matter is the primary air pollutant causing adverse health effects throughout Europe, originating predominantly from solid fuel use in domestic heating, industrial processes, and road transportation.

    The EEA briefing underscores significant disparities between countries and regions, with central and eastern Europe exhibiting higher pollution levels. In 2022, only Iceland maintained fine particulate concentrations below WHO guideline levels, while three EU Member States—Croatia, Italy, and Poland—recorded concentrations surpassing EU limits.

    Aligned with the European Green Deal, the zero pollution action plan aims to reduce premature deaths caused fine particulate matter by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels, with a broader objective of eliminating significant health impacts by 2050. Recent EU institutional agreements seek to update ambient air quality directives, aiming to align EU standards more closely with WHO guidelines and advance the objectives of the zero pollution action plan.

    The EEA’s briefing marks the initial analysis in the ‘Air Quality in Europe 2024’ series, with subsequent briefings planned on air pollutant emissions and the impacts of air pollution on ecosystems and human health, including estimates of associated deaths and illnesses.

  2. The impact of low and zero-emission zones in European cities

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    Source: European Federation for Transport and Environment

    New research commissioned by the Clean Cities Campaign and Transport & Environment shows a significant cut in air pollution after introducing low and zero-emission zones to our cities.

    Of particular excitement, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines for nitrogen dioxide pollution are within reach even in the most polluted and traffic-heavy hotspots in our cities, provided that zero-emissions zones are implemented by 2030. Additional air quality improvements can be made via other policies and sources.

    The commissioned research should help keep the EU’s Ambient Air Quality Directive updated and encourage the EU to adhere to guidelines and legal restrictions, and also accelerate their zero-emissions transport plans in Europe.

    The research was significant and the main findings to pass on included the following:
    • More stringent low-emission zones can curb NO2 pollution from local roads by between 36% (Milan) to 45% (Madrid) at traffic hotspots by 2027. This brings total concentrations (roadside plus other sources) at most city hotpots down to as low as 25.8 µg/m³, much closer to the 20 µg/m³ target that the European Commission proposed only for 2030.
    • In 2030, zero-emission zones can almost eliminate NO2 emissions from local roads, leaving only the contribution from other sources. Reductions range from 91% (Milan) to 95% (Paris, Brussels). Total NO2 levels of 13.6 µg/m3 (Brussels) to 23 µg/m3 (Milan and Warsaw) can be achieved.
    • The modelling contains several worst-case assumptions, and in particular does not allow for any significant ambition in targeting the remaining non-transport emissions. This means that the future-year predictions are likely to be conservative and that lower concentrations than predicted here are highly achievable with additional and combined efforts to tackle other pollution sources.

  3. Lisbon excludes cars from driving through the city centre

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    Source: Bloomberg

    Lisbon has become the latest European city to put a plan in place banning through-traffic. The Portuguese downtown capital has implemented the scheme on a temporary three-month basis for now, beginning on April 26th. Cars will be able to drive into the heart of the city but not through it, with a larger exclusion zone barring vehicles over 3.5 metric tones between 8am and 5pm. Only public transport will be exempt from the directive.

    In place of their journey through the city centre, cars will instead be ushered onto a semi-circular road network resembling a ring road. The scheme is expected to significantly reduce the amount of traffic through the historic heart of the city, while not causing major disruption for those vehicles visiting with a purpose. Some trepidation and a significant amount of cloaking accompanied the decision, one that Lisbon Deputy Mayor for Mobility Anacoreta Correia stressed, “is dynamic, it does not have an end in sight and will change as the completion of the works progresses.”

    It’s believed that the scheme will be recognised by even the most devoted of car owners who currently use the city on their journeys. Central Lisbon has some engineering and construction works scheduled for this summer that include two new metro stations, storm drains to aid in flooding along the city’s waterfront, sewerage repairs, and road resurfacing. Traffic passing through the city would only add to the disruption that is already expected.

    Although deemed to be temporary, the three-month trial has ignited some discussion in the city, with many proposing that some of the directives remain permanent, in particular the ban on daytime heavy goods vehicles.

    A number of Portuguese transit experts have concluded that the plan will aid the 2030 carbon neutrality target, implemented by Lisbon Mayor Carlos Moedas in his previous role as European Union Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation. Lisbon is one of 122 cities that have made the climate pledge, and Paris and Amsterdam are already taking measures to bar inner city through-traffic. London’s congestion charge was a precursor for such changes that are commonly gaining support and shaping the future.

  4. Air pollution exceeds WHO limits across EU and UK capital cities

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    Source: Euractiv, V. Romano

    Although NO2 emissions are on the decline, the CREA reports levels above guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation.

    Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is commonly released from combustion engine vehicles, amongst other sources. When inhaled, the gas can have harmful impacts on the individual – new research has shown concentrations of NO2 to be exceeding WHO limits in all EU27 and UK capital cities.

    In 2020, the road transportation sector was the main source of NO2 emissions, contributing approximately 37%. In urban areas, theses emissions have the largest impact, with additional traffic and dense populations multiplying human exposure to pollutants.

    Erika Uusivuori, Europe Analyst at The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and co-author of the briefing shared, “This week, the European Parliament has approved the 2035 ban on sales of new fossil fuel cars. However, NO2 concentration levels and the resulting health impacts in European cities remain too high,”

    Lawmakers need to find more solutions to reduce transport-related emissions, and other highly emitting sources, such as power generation, need to be addressed immediately, too,” she added.

    The capital cities with the lowest levels of NO2 pollution were Tallinn (Estonia) and Stockholm (Sweden), while Athens (Greece) and Bucharest (Romania) were the worst emitters.

  5. London’s ULEZ subsidies could contribute to increased LEV use in excluded groups

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    Source: Cycling Industry News, M. Sutton

    Subsidies available through the ‘Ultra Low Emission Zone’ scrappage scheme have been confirmed to be valid for the purchase of e-bikes, cargo bikes, and e-scooters.

    London’s ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) was designed to reduce the use of the most polluting vehicles in the city centre. Thus far, the ULEZ has helped to reduce roadside pollution levels by 44% in central London and 20% in inner London. Hence, the scheme is going London-wide from August 2023, aiming to improve air quality for an additional 5 million residents, trigger a 2% reduction in car use, and cut further into PM2.5 exhaust emissions.

    A key factor in the ULEZ expansion is the associated £110 million ‘scrappage scheme’; the full details of this can be found here. Transport for London shared, “Following the success of our last scrappage scheme, which saw the removal of more than 15,000 polluting vehicles from London’s roads, our new scrappage scheme will support Londoners on certain low income or disability benefits, and eligible micro-businesses (up to 10 employees), sole traders and charities with a registered address in London. Only eligible applicants with vehicles that do not meet the ULEZ emissions standard will qualify for our new scrappage scheme.

    It is excellent to hear that scrappage subsidies can be applied to the purchase of e-bikes, e-scooters, and cargo bikes. This massively improves the accessibility of LEVs and green mobility to many Londoners who may have been priced out until now.

  6. Brussels’ ‘Car-Free Sunday’ leads to 90% drop in automobile-related pollution

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    Source: Mayor.eu, D. Balgaranov

    On 18th September 2022, Brussels instituted a no-cars Sunday as part of European Mobility Week. From 09:30 am to 19:00 pm, cars were prohibited from much of the city to prioritize walking, cycling, and public transport.

    Outside of cultural and holistic benefits, Bruxelles Environment, the city’s environment agency, measured a 90% reduction in nitrogen monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, both of which are toxic substances emitted by combustion engines. Additionally, the city saw significant drops in noise levels, again seeing an approximate 90% decrease in typically congested areas; this further demonstrates what modern urban planners have been suggesting in recent years, “cities are not noisy, cars are noisy

    Authorities point out that yearly emissions have been going down since 2019, by about 10% per year. However, there is still a long way to go, since according to the European Environment Agency, in 2018, Belgium registered around 8,900 deaths caused by air pollution.”

  7. Health-damaging polluted air – EU citizens could sue their governments

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    Source: euractiv, Georgi Gotev

    A top court advisor shared that citizens in European Union countries may be able to sue their governments for compensation if their health is damaged by illegal levels of air pollution

    The European Environmental Agency estimates air pollution to be responsible for roughly 300,000 premature deaths a year in Europe. Following 10 EU countries being found guilty of illegal air pollution by the Luxembourg Court of Justice of the EU in the last 10 years, an advisor to the court has stated that citizens may be able to sue their home countries.

    An infringement of the limit values for the protection of air quality under EU law may give rise to entitlement to compensation from the State,” the court said in a statement.

    An individual must be able to prove that the damage to their health was caused directly by air pollution. “This legal confirmation that there are routes to hold those in power to account is a major breakthrough in the fight for clean and healthy air,” said Irmina Kotiuk, lawyer at environmental law firm ClientEarth.

  8. New research uncovers the economic and environmental benefits of the electric motorcycle

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    Source: Science Direct

    The potential to transform polluted city centres?

    Transportation accounts for 25% of total global CO2 emissions, primarily through fuel combustion. In many large cities, such as Barcelona and Madrid, combustion engine vehicle density has escalated air pollution levels to exceedingly high values. In line with European health legislation, many such cities have been forced to implement action plans to alleviate this issue; this includes low emission zones and vehicle environmental impact assessments.

    A current emerging trend is electrifying mobility, with electric vehicle ownership increasing by a factor of ten in the last 5 years. These vehicles are perceived to have a significantly lower environmental impact than their combustion engine counterparts. Carranza et al. now analyze this environmental disparity in the context of Barcelona and motorcycles – in Spain, there was an 8.7% growth of motorcycle registrations in 2021 compared to the previous year. Understanding the potential for developing battery-electric motorcycle technology to reduce the environmental impact of motorcycle use in Spain is therefore crucial for limiting the country’s emissions going forward.

    When analyzing the environmental impact of any vehicle there are multiple stages to consider – manufacturing, maintenance, operation, and disposal; however, the operational stage is where the most impact takes place. In internal combustion engine vehicles, direct emissions from fuel during their lifecycle equate to a value 10 times higher than their electric counterparts (6670 kgCO2-eq global warming potential compared to 650 kgCO2-eq). The source of electricity for battery electric vehicles does of course impact their individual emissions, doubling if supplied by purely coal plants; however, even at their highest point, operational emissions are still far below those of internal combustion vehicles.

    Electric vs combustion engine

    Considering all aspects of lifecycle, the global warming potential of battery-electric motorcycles is approximately one-fifth of internal combustion engine motorcycles, showing them to be a promising alternative. Regarding air pollution, the results of photochemical oxidation formation were 30% lower for electric motorcycles.

    Electromobility will play a fundamental role in the transformation of densely populated and pollution-troubled European cities such as Barcelona. To read the full open access study, offering additional analysis and findings, click here.

  9. Air pollution linked to 1.8 million deaths annually

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    Source: Euractiv

    Recently published studies in The Lancet Planetary Health journal link some 1.8 million excess deaths and nearly 2 million asthma cases to air pollution globally in 2019.

    These findings reveal the desperate need for strategies to improve air pollution and reduce harmful exposures – particularly to the most vulnerable groups in society, children and the elderly. It has been revealed that 2.5 billion people, 86% of those living in urban areas worldwide, are exposed to unhealthy particulate matter levels. World Health Organisation (WHO) states, “there is a close, quantitative relationship between exposure to high concentrations of small particulates and increased mortality or morbidity, both daily and over time.”

    The European Commission is currently preparing a legislative proposal that acts to more closely align EU air quality standards to those recommended by WHO; this will make up one part of the flagship European Green Deal, planned for late 2022. The deal is crucial as many European locations fall behind the NO2 limit. There are currently 13 infringement cases open against member states, with NO2 concentrations in these locations continually exceeding the upper limit of 40 μg/m3.

    It should be noted, that pollution in the EU has seen a general decrease in the last two decades, including key pollutants PM2.5 and NO2. While this is positive, there is a long road to cleaner air and a healthier society; even with these improvements, NO2 was still associated with 1.85 million new pediatric asthma cases in 2019.

    The full studies can be read here, and here.

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