Europe’s cities falling short on clean transport, new ranking shows

February 28, 2022

Europe’s cities are not doing enough to get their citizens onto environment-friendly transport.

Europe’s cities are not doing enough to get their citizens onto environment-friendly transport. That’s the conclusion from a new ranking assessing which of Europe’s urban areas are well placed to reduce their environmental impact. 

The Clean Cities Campaign (CCC) that compiled the ranking says it should be “a wake-up call to Europe” but it is also an opportunity to improve and clean up urban mobility.

With 75% of Europe’s citizens living in cities, and urban mobility responsible for 23% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions from transport, the continent’s climate and clean air targets will not be met without a serious effort to reduce urban emissions.

Yet, to date it has been difficult to compare progress across cities. The CCC, a coalition of NGOs backed by T&E, has filled this gap by taking 36 of Europe’s major cities – capitals plus big urban centres like Barcelona, Lyon, Munich, Gdansk and others – and ranking them according to the efforts they are making to achieve zero-emission mobility by 2030.

The 36 cities were ranked according to five criteria: how much space they created for people, how safe their roads are (based on pedestrian and cyclist deaths), access to climate-friendly mobility (mainly public transport and electric vehicle charging infrastructure), what policies they have put in place for reducing greenhouse and polluting gases, and their air quality. 

The best performers are all capitals in northern Europe, in particular the Nordic countries. Oslo tops the list, with Amsterdam second, followed by Helsinki, Copenhagen, Paris and Stockholm. At the wrong end of the table, Naples is bottom, closely followed by three Polish cities: Krakow, Warsaw and the ‘Tri-city’ coastal agglomeration of Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia.

Where they were available, internationally recognised indexes were used to assess a city’s performance (like the WHO’s air quality guidelines), and where they weren’t, a ‘best in class’ approach was used.

Barbara Stoll, director of the Clean Cities Campaign,  said: “This should be a wake-up call for Europe. Without cities making much bigger efforts we will not get close to reaching zero-emissions by 2050 as promised by the European Green Deal. 

“This can also be an opportunity for cities to become more liveable. Clean, efficient and reliable transport makes cities so much more attractive, and millions of Europeans are looking for relief from dirty air. We should acknowledge that Oslo and Amsterdam are not first and second by accident. It is about getting the policies right.”

Each city was ranked in percentage terms, with Oslo scoring 71.5%, Amsterdam 65.5% and Naples 37.8%. The CCC says the scoring system should be interpreted as showing how anything less than 100% means too little is being done to achieve zero-emission mobility by 2030.

As a result, significant improvements are needed to make sure cities can play their role in meeting Europe’s zero emission goal. These include setting clear and binding zero-emission urban mobility goals for 2030 and reviewing EU legislation accordingly. 

This applies not just to greenhouse gases but to other pollutants, given that the European Commission’s ‘Zero Pollution Action Plan’ published in May 2021 revealed that more than 100 cities across the continent had breached EU air quality limits.

Some cities scored very well in one category, but not in others. For example, Lisbon offers some of the best access to climate-friendly mobility but finished 15th overall because of poor scores for clean air and space for people. Similarly, Vienna was second only to Oslo in having safe roads, but finished 13th because of poor mobility policies and air quality. Paris scored well on access to climate-friendly mobility and policies, but posted low scores for clean air and space for people.

Stoll added: “Although our findings should ring alarm bells, there are some grounds for hope. We show that there are different pathways to a more sustainable urban future, so no city should feel there’s only one way to reduce its environmental footprint. And measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 have created a window into a possible future, with more space for people, cleaner air and quieter, safer streets.”

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