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Air quality for tomorrow’s cities

What if the cities of tomorrow already existed? What if all over Europe cities were already doing the work, putting the efforts in, innovating and creating the future we want for the people and the environment? This podcast explores the possibility of local transformation and concrete sustainable change.

We hear a lot of depressing news about the state of the environment. One recurring topic on the list is air pollution, and it almost seems as if we have all internalised the idea that air being polluted is just the way it is and that there is not much that can be done to fix it.

In November 2020, the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) annual report stated that 3/4 of all Europeans living in cities are exposed to air that is harmful to their health. In December 2020, a new report from the EEB revealed that most national governments were not meeting the objectives set by EU laws and had failed to protect public health and the environment, costing us thousands of lives, environmental damage, and accentuating social and economic inequalities.

In this podcast, we debunk some of the myths about air pollution and talk about concrete things that cities can do, and are already doing, to improve air quality. This discussion is a breath of fresh hope with examples to take inspiration from.

We first looked at the scientific data with Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Research Professor, Director of the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative, and Director of the Air pollution and Urban Environment Programme. As explained by Mark, the causes of air pollution are more diverse than we imagine. Energy generation, transport, domestic heating and farming are all sources of air pollution, and each sector must do its part to curb it. And the effects of air pollution are as diverse as its pollutants. If asthma is on the list of diseases caused by air pollution, brain and heart damages also make the cut.

Through urban planning, Mark and his team propose alternatives for cities. They believe that a lot can be done at the local level. The work that cities are doing is already visible all over Europe. During the first lockdown, many cities installed extra bike lanes to offer an alternative to public transport, and some cities, including Paris, decided to keep such lanes open once post lockdown.

The cities of Paris and Budapest agreed to testify and to give us an insight into their work of reducing air pollution and improving the quality of life of their inhabitants. Both decided to put in the heart of their policy the social aspect of transition, leaving no one behind, and acknowledging the economic inequalities that are linked to the issue.

“We need to establish clear priorities on what deserves to be supported and what doesn’t deserve to be supported. This should be reflected both in the EU debate but even more so in what member states are choosing to do at national level. The Commission has the responsibility to make sure that every cent we spend now is spent on the right thing. We don’t have time to lose fixing tomorrow what could be done right today.”

Margerita Tolotto

Tune in to hear more about the amazing works cities are doing at local level! You might find out that the solutions you have hoped for might be closer than you think.