Measures at EU level alone will “not be sufficient” to improve air quality in Europe as more national and local action is also needed, according to environment commissioner Janez Potočnik.
Speaking as part of the European Mobility Week awards ceremony in Brussels last week (March 6), at which Aberdeen city council received recognition for its transport plans, Mr Potočnik said sustainable urban planning was “crucial” in reducing air pollution as it promotes “greater mobility, better air quality, less noise, and a healthier environment.”
He pointed to a recent European Environment Agency (EEA) report which suggested that improvements in transport have mainly been due to increased efficiencies rather than a cultural shift towards sustainability or avoidance of non-essential journeys.
He said: “Air pollution seems invisible unless you live in other parts of the world such as Beijing or Mexico City where you can actually see the smog and feel like a kind of human vacuum cleaner. But let’s not be fooled by the lack of visibility – it is still a major cause of illness and death.”
The environment commissioner also said he would be concentrating especially on transport and traffic emissions in the review of EU air quality policy taking place as part of the 2013 ‘Year of Air’ (see airqualitynews.com story).
He said: “Unfortunately – despite all the conclusive information we have – the main cause of air pollution still remains traffic. This clearly gives a critical pinch to the life-styles we have developed. I will pay specific attention to this sector in the upcoming air policy review, to make sure that transport emissions continue to decrease.”
He continued: “In many cases, however, it is clear that measures at EU level will not be sufficient to achieve lower levels of air pollution. For hot-spot areas such as large cities, national and local action will have to complement initiatives developed at EU level, if we want to obtain lasting results.”
Mr Potočnik also reiterated his promise to write and sing a song in front of 1,000 people if at least the same number of people agreed to stop using their cars for a week as part of the Earth Hour ‘I will if you will’ challenge beginning on March 23.
“So far we have tested free-car Sundays but free-car working days are certainly more demanding!” he said.
Aberdeen city council was given the first ever European Commission Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) award for its work on a transport plan for the city centre at the awards ceremony, beating two finalists to take the prize.
The awards recognise cities and regions which show excellence in developing and implementing their sustainable urban mobility plans, and as part of its award Aberdeen received €10,000 to support local awareness-raising activities on sustainable urban mobility.
Aberdeen’s SUMP, currently in its preparation stages, is designed to improve transport in the city over the next 25 years and will be finalised in autumn 2013. It focuses on improving transport connections, accessibility, safety and reducing noise and air pollution. It also aims to help regenerate the town centre through improved public transport and drop off points as well as increased cycling and walking opportunities in the area.
The awards jury commended the city’s consultation with residents and use of social media, with 500 people completing online surveys on the plans.
The judges stated: “Aberdeen shows an outstanding participatory approach on how to involve stakeholders and citizens in this process. It offers an outstanding package of channels. Its successful use of social media demonstrates the council’s ambition for innovation and connecting to citizens. Good response rates from citizens prove the appropriate application of the chosen tools.”
Aberdeen city council’s deputy provost John Reynolds and senior transport strategy planner Louise Napier received the award from European Commission vice-president Siim Kallas at the ceremony in Brussels.
European commissioner for transport, Siim Kallas, said: “Aberdeen and the other finalists are at the forefront of an EU-wide drive to incorporate sustainability into urban mobility planning. The urban mobility plans devised by cities and local authorities today are crucial to boosting efficiency and competitiveness. In line with the 2012 theme, the finalists boast a strong role for citizens – a key factor in long-term urban planning success.”
Mr Reynolds, said: “The jury was impressed by the level of public engagement Aberdeen city council undertook in drawing up the SUMP, particularly the innovative use of social media, which was a first for the team.
“I am delighted that Aberdeen is the first to win this prestigious award, particularly when we were up against such stiff competition from the Municipality of Ljutomer and the Public Transport Authority of the Greater Toulouse, where SUMPs have already been adopted. Our SUMP will be integral to regenerating the city centre and improving access into and around the area.”