Progress in fighting air pollution is slowing down

Progress in improving air quality across Europe has almost come to a complete stop , according to the latest data from the European Environment Agency (EEA). There have been minor improvements in NO2 emissions, which were at the centre of the Dieselgate scandal, but overall levels are still a problem. Yet the biggest concern is fine particles concentrations (PM2.5), which reduced steadily between 2000 and 2014 but have not decreased since then.

 

This year’s EEA report on air quality is based on data collected in 2017 from thousands of official monitoring stations around Europe. Air pollution in the EU is regulated by air quality standards set out in two EU Ambient Air Quality directives. Yet there have been numerous breaches of minimum air quality levels in European cities.

This summer, the European Commission took Spain to court over excessive levels of NO2 concentrations. The latest country to be criticised for failing to take air pollution requirements seriously is France. In a judgement on 24 October, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said France has ‘systematically and persistently’ breached pollution limits since 2010, and exceeded NO2 levels in 12 areas of the country. The French government has been told to take immediate measures to improve air quality or face fines.

PM2.5 levels exceeded WHO air quality guidelines at 69% of the air quality stations and in all but three of the reporting countries. In particular, fine microparticulates (PM2.5) caused 412,000 premature deaths in 2016 but have levelled out after several years of steady reductions.

Bulgaria and Poland have already been criticised by the ECJ, and were warned about possible fines, while Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania and the UK also face legal action for exceeding limits on NO2 and PM2.5.

T&E’s air quality manager, Jens Müller, said: ‘The EEA’s report confirms that progress towards clean air is worryingly slow, mainly because carmakers refuse to clean up their fleets of dirty diesels and try to delay the transition towards zero-emission vehicles. The EEA figures confirm that the internal combustion engine must be phased out, and those European cities that face toxic levels of pollution should be the first to set rules on access to urban areas that drive the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy in transport.’

In a separate but related development, the first 100% electric taxi to operate in London for 120 years has gone into service. The Dynamo is a taxi converted from a Nissan electric vehicle, the e-NV200 Evalia, and has a range of up to 300km on a single charge. It is not the first electric taxi in London – a young engineer, Walter Bersey, introduced an electric cab in 1897 at a time when the city’s taxis were horse-drawn, but even with its top speed of 19km/h it failed to compete and was withdrawn in 1899.