What are European cities doing to tackle sky-high air pollution?

What are European cities doing to tackle sky-high air pollution?
By Chris Harris
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As Paris steps up its crackdown on the city’s worst-polluting vehicles (in French), Euronews looks at what other European cities are doing to tackle the deadly…


As Paris steps up its crackdown on the city’s worst-polluting vehicles (in French), Euronews looks at what other European cities are doing to tackle the deadly problem.

From today (Monday, January 16), the French capital will begin enforcing a scheme to restrict what vehicles can enter the city’s limits.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) said 85 percent of those living in urban areas in the EU were exposed to levels of particulate matter (PM 2.5) considered harmful by the World Health Organisation.

The EEA says in Europe PM 2.5 was responsible for 467,000 premature deaths and nitrogen oxides 71,000 in 2013, the latest year for which data was available.

Transport, in particular diesel vehicles, is one of the biggest contributors to nitrogen oxide emissions, whereas PM 2.5 comes from several different areas, including household heating, coal-fired power plants, vehicles and agriculture.

One of the most popular ways (see below) of controlling air pollution, is to only allow vehicles with certain emission standards to drive in city centres.

But environmental groups say the standards – which have come under scrutiny after Volkswagen admitted cheating emission tests in the US – have failed to cut air pollution levels.

“Euro standards have failed to successfully reduce real-world NOx emissions from diesel vehicles,” said Udo Taddei, a lawyer at ClientEarth. “Diesel vehicles emit on the road on average five or six times the legal limit.”


- London’s congestion charge, which sees drivers pay to enter the city centre, was the first such scheme in a major European city when it was introduced in 2003.

- Lorries, buses and coaches over a certain weight – and large vans – have had to meet certain emissions standards to be allowed into the city, since 2012. This will be extended to all other vehicles by 2020.

- One of the city’s main shopping areas, Oxford Street, has recorded some of the highest nitrogen dioxide levels in the world. Putney High Street, in south-west London, broke its annual emission limits just eight days into 2016.

- The UK government’s Department for Environment was ordered to come up with a better set of proposals to tackle air pollution by July 2017, by the High Court.

Source: European Environment Agency, 2014


- The city is planning to ban private vehicles from the city centre by 2019 and has reportedly already begun removing parking spaces as it begins making the shift.

- There is already a charge for entering the city centre, which costs around 3.40 euros, 6h-18h, Monday to Friday.

- During periods of high pollution, the city can either temporarily ban the use of diesel vehicles that do not meet certain pollution standards, or, like Paris, allow vehicles with odd-numbered registration plates to circulate one day, but not the next, alternating with even-numbered vehicles.

- A zone that only allows vehicles that meet certain emissions standards to enter, is planned for spring 2017.

- Zero-emission cars made up 17.1 percent of new car registrations in Norway in 2015, the highest market share for clean vehicles in the world.



- There is a charge for entering the city centre, five euros, or two euros if you are a Milan resident.

- From February 13, 2017, stricter limits will be imposed on vehicles allowed into central Milan, although some less environmentally-friendly vehicles will have 40 free tickets to enter the city’s low emissions zone up until October 2017.

- There is also a low emissions zone covering the province of Milan.


- All vehicles, from Monday, January 16, have to display a sticker attesting to how polluting they are, with some cars, such as those put on the roads before 1997, banned altogether. A similar scheme will be introduced in Grenoble from April 2017.

- A ban on lorries and heavy goods vehicles entering the city at certain times, such as Monday mornings or Friday afternoons.


- During past pollution peaks, the city has bid to tackle the problem by only allowing vehicles with even-numbered registration plates one day, and odd the next. The city also makes public transport free during these periods to encourage people to leave their vehicles at home.

- From July 2017, diesel vehicles will have to meet certain emission standards (Euro 3) to be allowed on Paris’ streets.

- The regular closure of some of the worst-polluted streets. For example the Champs Elysées is shut on the first Sunday of each month.

- Paris is one of four cities worldwide to commit to banning diesel vehicles altogether by 2025.


- Munich, like scores of other German cities, has restrictions on what vehicles can drive on the city’s streets. Vehicles have to meet certain standards (Euro 4, 5 and 6 for diesel vehicles in Munich) to be allowed to circulate. All vehicles have to put a sticker in the windscreen to indicate how polluting it is considered.


- A ban on trucks weighing more than 3.5 tonnes passing through the city centre.

- There has long been debate about whether to introduce blue badges for vehicles, aimed at tackling nitrogen oxide levels. Their introduction was rejected at a meeting of federal transport ministers in Stuttgart in October 2016, because it would ban older diesel cars from the roads. Ecologist Winfried Hermann, transport minister for the Baden-Württemberg region, said the idea was still on the political agenda, however.

- In July 2016 the Bavarian Administrative Court ordered the state, which includes the city of Munich, to bring nitrogen oxide levels down within a year, or face a fine.

- Meanwhile in Stuttgart there is a pollution alert system in place, which is triggered when weather conditions are expected to be conducive to allowing fine dust to collect in the atmosphere around the city. When the alert is sounded, city residents are called on to leave their cars at home and not to light fires unless they are an essential part of heating the house.

Your view: Do you think European cities are doing enough to tackle deadly air pollution? Does your city have an unusual or innovative way of tackling the problem? Let me know: chris.harris@euronews.com

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