Cities’ air quality efforts ranked

In Zurich the number of cars has been substantially reduced. Photo: Thomas 8047/ BY

Zurich topped a new ranking list of European cities based on efforts to improve air quality. It was followed by Copenhagen, Vienna and Stockholm. At the bottom of the list came Luxembourg and Lisbon.

The Swiss city of Zurich emerged as the winner of the second ‘Sootfree Cities’ ranking list that graded the efforts to improve air quality of 23 major European cities. In 2011, the last time the ranking was published by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), the winner was Berlin (see AN3/2011). It slipped to fifth place this year.

The ranking concentrated on measures put in place in cities over the past five years and looked at air quality plans for the next five years to take into account changes that were already in the pipeline.

The list of categories evaluated included:

  • Air pollution reductions;
  • How comprehensive low emission zones & bans for heavy polluters are;
  • How clean public procurement for transport is;
  • How comprehensive the strategy for non-road mobile machinery is;
  • What type of economic incentives are used;
  • How successful the city is at managing road traffic and other transport modes;
  • How comprehensive the city has been at promoting public transport;
  • How successful the city is at promoting walking and cycling;
  • Whether it provides attractive and comprehensive information to citizens about air quality.

In Zurich and Copenhagen the number of cars has been substantially reduced and there are restrictions on highly polluting vehicles such as diesel cars, trucks and construction machinery. At the same time, cleaner forms of transport, such as public transport, cycling and walking have been greatly expanded.

Arne Fellermann, Transport Policy Officer at BUND, commented: “Our ranking shows that cities across Europe have been actively fighting air pollution because of the EU’s air quality standards. Although 90 per cent of Europeans living in cities today are still breathing unhealthy air, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Vienna or Berlin have either met, or are due to meet, the EU limit values within the next two years. Zurich has already progressed well beyond the EU’s norms.”

None of the 23 cities reached grade A, which is awarded for cities that score at least 90 per cent of the maximum number of points. A total of six cities failed with an F grade, namely: Dublin, Glasgow, Madrid, Rome, Lisbon and Luxembourg.

It was pointed out that cities’ efforts to fight air pollution are hampered by inadequate action at EU level to fight air pollution, and that effective EU rules that reflect the emissions of road vehicles under real driving conditions are urgently needed. The EU should also strengthen emission standards for construction machinery (so-called non-road mobile machinery), and tighten the overall air pollution emission limits in 2020, 2025 and 2030 under the National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive. The latter would cut the amount of pollution each member state is allowed to emit and reduce long-distance pollution, which cities are helpless to deal with.

Member states’ environment ministers will discuss the NEC Directive in June. In July, a proposal to revise the NEC Directive will be voted on in the Environment Committee of the European Parliament, followed by a plenary vote scheduled for September.
Louise Duprez, Senior Policy Officer for Air Pollution at the EEB, said: “Cities can do a lot to improve air quality, but they are left exposed to some pollution they can’t control. This includes pollution coming from outside the city, like emissions from agriculture or industry. The EU must be more ambitious if it wants to prevent deadly smog episodes.”

According to the European Commission, air pollution is the number one environmental cause of premature death in the EU, responsible for more than ten times the toll of road traffic accidents. In 2010 air pollution caused over 400,000 premature deaths as well as substantial avoidable sickness and suffering, including respiratory conditions and exacerbated cardiovascular problems. The annual external costs of these health impacts were estimated to range between €330 and 940 billion.

Christer Ågren

Source: EEB/BUND press release, 31 March 2015
For the full ranking, explanation of the methodology and the results for each city, visit:

In this issue