EU focus on clean air
EU focus on clean air
Environment, Nuclear Safety and Civil Protection
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Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 1999
© European Communities, 1999
Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged.
Printed in Germany
European Union policy concerning the protection of the
environment and natural resources has steadily grown in
importance since the 1980s. The reason for this is that the
threats of environmental damage and depletion of natural
resources are still far from being under control. Fortunately,
many people have become more aware of the hidden dangers
and have demanded stronger action at national and,
especially, European level in order to protect the
As a result, the range of measures at our disposal in order to
conduct environmental policy, ranging from legislation to
financial instruments, has been strengthened enormously. In
particular, the Treaty of Amsterdam has made the principle of
sustainable development and a high level of environmental
protection one of the top priorities (Article 2). Our policy has
also become much broader and more diversified, covering all
sectors of society and encompassing a wide range of
Some topics are of particular concern to many European
citizens. One of these is air quality. This is also one of the
areas in which Europe has been most active in recent years.
The European Commission has aimed to develop an overall
strategy. Member States are required to transpose and
implement new directives on air quality which set long-term
quality objectives. But it is also our direct responsibility to
cope with this problem, changing our day by day behaviour.
Let's leave the car in the garage in favour of walking, biking
or using public transport whenever possible! Only then will
our cities become a better place to live in.
Like the availability of capital, manpower, or transport
infrastructure, the quality of air is likely to become a
determining factor in the location of investment and therefore
economic growth of a region. The way in which not only
cities, but also companies, organise their transport systems
will become, without any doubt, one of the major priorities of
years to come.
How to inform citizens on air quality? European legislation
defines precise obligations, relating to informing the public
in the event of significant pollution such as ozone
exceedances of recent years. Each one of us has the right to
demand national and local authorities to take action to
improve our air quality.
The European air strategy is addressed in this brochure. It is
intended to inform local and regional players, NGOs, policy-
makers at all levels, social partners and consumers, as well as
citizens. We also hope this information will give you ideas
about how you can make your own particular contribution
towards resolving environmental problems.
We all need good quality air for our own health and that of
our environment. But over the last few years many of us have
seen newspaper headlines reflecting the dangerous effects of
emissions to the air from human activities. For example:
‘More children suffering from asthma’;
‘Hole in the ozone layer getting larger’;
‘Forests dying due to acid rain’;
‘More storms and droughts in the future’.
Concrete action already taken at different levels —
international, European, national and local — has helped, but
more still needs to be done.
Natural variations in the earth’s climate have always
occurred. But recently changes have been taking place which,
it is generally accepted, result from human activities. This
‘global warming’ is due to the release of increased amounts
of so-called greenhouse gases which affect the level of
absorption and emission of the sun’s radiation through the
∑• carbon dioxide (CO2) from energy use, transport, industrial
∑∑• methane (CH4) from energy production and use, certain
forms of agriculture, landfills;
∑∑• nitrous oxide (N2O) from fertilised soils, biomass burning,
combustion of fossil fuels;
∑∑• chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from industrial activities,
Air in Europe —
• rise in sea-level;
∑• increased extreme weather conditions such as floods, storms
The ozone layer which protects the earth from harmful
ultra-violet radiation has become thinner and thinner over
the last 25 years. Over Antarctica, the ozone layer has been so
badly damaged that a hole has developed which is gradually
∑• chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and to a lesser extent
hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) from refrigeration, foam
blowing, aerosols and solvents;
∑• methyl bromide from soil fumigation in agriculture and
• skin cancer in humans;
∑• damage to marine ecosystems.
Acidifying substances deposited in soil and water can have
serious effects on certain species of plants and animals. Many
of these substances result from human industrial activities
and are carried by the wind thousands of kilometres from
their source before being deposited. Acid deposition is
currently well above tolerance levels in many ecosystems. For
example, around 20 % of forests and lakes in Scandinavia are
dead and another 30 % have been badly affected, mostly by
pollution from other countries.
∑• sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) from
burning of fossil fuels;
∑• ammonia (NH3) from agriculture.
∑• plants and fish die because they cannot survive in more
∑• building materials are damaged;
• pollutants like heavy metals and nitrates are more easily
released into groundwater.
Problems like global warming, ozone depletion and
acidification are very worrying, but can seem remote from
our daily life. Of more direct concern to many health experts,
policy-makers and citizens is the link between poor air
quality and human health. Polluted air is a problem,
especially in our cities.
Urban areas are where most of our industry and traffic is
concentrated, and are home to almost 80 % of the European
population. Action taken over the last 30 years to tackle the
worst air pollution from industry in European cities has
improved the situation greatly. However, huge increases in
Urban air quality
car traffic over the same period mean that poor air quality,
caused by vehicle emissions to the air, still poses a serious
danger to human health.
Main health effects
Affects the central nervous system
Give digestive problems
lead, mercury and nickel)
Damage the nervous system
Causes respiratory illnesses
Other fuel combustion processes
Damages lung tissues
Transformation of nitrogen oxides
Produces respiratory problems
and volatile organic compounds
Reduces lung function
produced by traffic in the
presence of sunlight
Irritates eyes and nose
Reduces resistance to infections
Fuel burning — e.g. diesel and wood
Produce cardiac problems
Agriculture — e.g. ploughing,
Give rise to respiratory diseases
burning-off for fields
Increase the risk of infant mortality
Secondary chemical reactions
Causes respiratory problems
Source: European Commission: Clean air for Europe’s cities, 1997.
Air pollutants and health
Transport and air pollution
Nowadays we travel more often and further by all modes of
transport but especially by private car. Cars are used for
almost eight out of every ten kilometres travelled in the
(billion passenger-kilometres) and
modal split (% of all kilometres
travelled), EU-15 1970-94
Source: European Commission (DG VII, Eurostat).
European Union. Half of all car journeys are under six
kilometres in length.
Growth in car traffic has come about for a number of reasons:
• Land-use planning — the planned separation of homes,
workplaces, shopping and recreation centres, forces us to
travel by car as other forms of transport are not available or
∑• Increased city size — through such planning, cities have
grown outwards. Many of us live in suburbs. Distances to be
covered are greater. It is very expensive to run good public
transport services to these areas.
∑• Investment in roads, both within and outside cities, has
been far greater than in public transport.
∑• The real price of travel by car compared to the general cost
of living has decreased and continues to fall, meaning that
we can travel further and more often. As we are generally
richer than 25 years ago many of us can afford to buy
second and third cars.
∑• Car culture — although we travel more by all modes of
transport there is a certain status attached to owning and
using a car.
With such tremendous growth in car traffic it is not surprising
that our cities have become congested and polluted. People
used to travel more quickly in our cities in the days of the
horse and cart than they do now during peak times — not
exactly the freedom and speed of movement which we seek!
And, although car engines individually are now cleaner than
before, what we have gained by reducing emissions per car
we have lost by using more cars to cover more kilometres.
What is the
Air pollution is a problem which affects every one of us. And
we all have a role to play in finding the solutions. The
European Union is playing its part at a number of different
At international level
Air pollution does not respect national boundaries and
sometimes can be best tackled at international level. EU
actions include the following:
At the Kyoto international environmental summit in December
1997 it was agreed that industrial countries would reduce their
greenhouse gases by 5.2 %. The EU agreed to reduce its
emissions by 8 %.
The EU’s 1996 targets for the elimination of CFCs were met. The
objective of a 35 % reduction in the level of HCFCs by 2004,
followed by a total ban by 2030 are on schedule.
As a whole, the EU has met the requirements of international
acidifying substances protocols under the United Nations
treaty on long-distance transboundary air pollution.
At European level
At international level the EU can only persuade and
encourage other countries to take action. Within Europe, the
European Commission is able to propose new legislation
which must be incorporated into Member States’ law. Through
legislation much progress has been made in tackling
pollutants like sulphur dioxide, lead and CFCs.
However, the European Commission realises that legislation
alone is not enough and, through a range of other tools, is
helping Member States to improve their air quality by:
• entering into agreements with industry;
• supporting scientific research and technological
∑• assisting sectoral and spatial planning;
∑• improving the quality and quantity of environmental data;
∑• examining alternative fiscal measures to favour sustainable
∑• supporting public information and educational campaigns;
∑• promoting professional education and training;
∑• providing financial support.
At city level
The new framework directive on urban air quality
management is a key element of the EC strategy for improved
air quality. It imposes strict monitoring requirements on cities
for a number of pollutants as well as the duty to prepare
action plans to deal with poor air quality over the short and
long term. An important option offered to city authorities by
the framework directive is the right to ‘suspend activities,
including motor-vehicle traffic when there is a risk of limit
values being exceeded’. Information is a major requirement
Selected current EU actions to improve air quality
• Introduction of an environmental
impact assessment directive for land
• Adoption of a new framework
directive on air quality and plans for
so-called ‘daughter directives’.
• Tightening of legislation relating to
vehicle emissions, fuel composition
and noise control. Agreement with
the oil and automobile industries on
the ‘auto-oil programme’ to reduce
• Promotion of good practices in
sustainable transport. For example,
the European Commission supports
the car free cities network which
currently comprises 60 members —
including Amsterdam, Barcelona,
Copenhagen and Palermo — has
working groups on commercial
traffic, public transport, car sharing,
road pricing, commuting, less pol-
luting urban vehicles, and cycling
and walking. The EC also supports
ELTIS — the European local transport
information service — an on-line
database of good practices.
• Evaluation and development of new
technology, including road pricing
and route guidance throughout the
• Promotion of cycling as a mode of
transport, for example through the
Eurovélo programme with its
planned trans-European network of
Past successes —
hope for the future
of the framework directive. When air quality standards are
breached cities must make public their plans to improve the
Although air quality issues continue to cause concern,
particularly in cities due to increased car traffic, the picture is
not all doom and gloom. Success stories are to be found, and
their number is growing all the time.
As part of the international effort to achieve a reduction in
greenhouse gas emissions, the EU adopted in 1996 a strategy
on reducing CO2 emissions from new passenger cars. As part
of this strategy, the Commission has made a voluntary
agreement with the European automobile manufacturers,
where industry has committed itself to reduce average CO2
emissions from new passenger cars by 25 % over the next
decade; further agreements will now be made with importers.
To complement the agreements with car manufacturers the EC
has proposed a fuel-economy information scheme which will
provide objective information on the fuel consumption of
passenger cars to consumers.
Compared to their peak value, annual production of
substances which deplete the ozone layer has been reduced
by between 80 and 90 %.
Emissions of sulphur dioxide in Europe were reduced by 50 %
between 1980 and 1995.
New public transport systems recently opened in several cities
across Europe have attracted an increased share of passengers
through their high service levels and quality, combined with
actions taken to deter car use.
Many cities have made their centres car free, making
themselves safer, cleaner, more pleasant places to live, work,
shop and relax.
Whilst planners and politicians often continue to focus on
meeting the needs of the car, more and more people realise
that cycling is a real alternative mode of transport in the city.
Examples of new city cycle path networks can be found from
Volos in Greece to Dublin in Ireland.
What can each of
Some of the solutions to our air quality problems lie in new
technology. But in itself technology is not enough. We must
all consider the options available to us for the way we plan,
travel and live. We can all make a difference!
As a citizen
1. Think seriously before using your car for a journey.
Consider the benefits offered by other modes of transport.
• increased safety
• reduced congestion
• better health
• saved time
• saved money
2. If you still decide to drive, what about sharing a vehicle
with someone? Many employers run car pooling and car
sharing schemes. And maintain your car in good order —
engines, tyres and filters in good condition save emissions
3. Buy ‘green’: for example, when buying your next car, take
advantage of the European ‘carbon dioxide and cars’
labelling scheme (which should come into effect in 2001) to
buy a less polluting vehicle.
4. Let your municipality see that you support measures to
improve facilities for public transport, cyclists and
pedestrians. Point out what has been done in other places
you have visited.
As an employer
Congestion is an enemy of business, costing an estimated EUR
120 billion (or 2 % of European GDP) every year in Europe.
Your business is clearly not helped by all the traffic on our
roads. As an employer, there are a variety of possible mea-
sures you can take.
1. Look at moving raw materials and end products around in
conjunction with other local firms, cutting both costs and
2. Start a ‘commuter plan’ with your local authority or with
other businesses to encourage your staff to use alternative
means of transport to the car to get to work. For example,
encourage your employees to travel to work together, car
sharing or car pooling, offer travelcards for public trans-
port, start a (mini)bus pick-up service from central points,
improve cycling facilities at your company.
3. Examine the company car policy of your business — do so
many people need to use a company car?
As a local authority
The same pattern of development — concentration of homes,
industry and traffic — which contributes to poor air quality in
cities, provides an opportunity to tackle these problems in an
integrated and cost-effective way. Further, in this era of glob-
alisation, an accessible city, with a pleasant and healthy envi-
ronment, is attractive for outside investors, as well as for its
citizens. There are a number of important considerations.
1. Plan your city so that people do not need to travel so far or
so often. Concentrate new developments within the city,
not on the edge, and around public transport nodes —
train stations, metro, tram and bus stops. Mix different
functions — home, work, shopping and leisure.
2. Restrict car access to, and parking in, certain areas.
3. Enter into partnerships with local businesses to help them
establish commuting plans and find alternative ways to
move freight around.
4. Invest in public transport to make sure that it is of good
quality, frequent, reliable, punctual, safe and clean but
not expensive. Offer interchanges where passengers can
easily and quickly transfer between different modes of
transport (for example, car/tram, tram/bus). Favour
public transport through dedicated bus-lanes, priority at
traffic lights and access to areas where cars are restricted.
5. Ensure that pedestrians and cyclists can move safely
around your city. Provide car-free areas, safe road cross-
ings, cycle paths and cycle parking facilities.
6. Undertake information campaigns to empower citizens and
businesses to reduce their car usage.
7. Exchange information with other cities in Europe — many
are or have been in the same situation. You may not have
to reinvent the wheel.
Further information and order form
Directorate-General XI is the arm of the European Commission
responsible for matters of environment, civil protection and
nuclear safety. Units mainly responsible for the issues covered
in this brochure are:
Unit D.3 Air quality, transport and urban environment, noise,
Unit A.2 Climate change
DG XI produces regular reports and other publications
covering the full spectrum of environmental themes. For more
information on European Union action to improve our air
quality please complete and send or fax the attached form to:
Unit XI.5 Information and communication
Rue de la Loi/Wetstraat 200
Fax (32-2) 296 95 60
European environmental information is also available
Other useful sources of information:
Kongens Nytorv 6
DK-1050 Copenhagen K
Fax (45) 33 36 71 99
13 Chaussée d’Etterbeek
Good Practice in Urban
Management and Sustainability
European Local Transport
Square de Meeûs, 18
European Platform on Mobility
Contact person in DG VII: Marcel
Car Free Cities
Square de Meeûs 18
The European Sustainable Cities &
Rue de Trèves/Trierstraat 49-51
2, chemin de Palente
International Association of Public
Av. Herman Debroux 17
Transport & Environment
Bd. de Waterloo, 34
European Cyclists’ Federation
Av. Broqueville 158 (b3)
European Car Sharing
EU focus on clean air
Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities
1999 — 18 pp. — 21 x 21 cm
Please send me the most recent EC documentation on
❐ Air quality
❐ Green jobs
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