Closing the EU Green Week 2013 conference, environment commissioner Janez PotoÄnik says more work is needed to raise public awareness of air pollution
Raising public awareness about air pollution is of â€˜key importanceâ€™ when implementing EU air quality policy, according to European environment commissioner Janez PotoÄnik.
Speaking on Friday (June 7) at the close of EU Green Week 2013 in Brussels, Mr PotoÄnik suggested that more action was needed at EU level to reduce emissions at source and that stricter air quality standards were also necessary. However, Mr PotoÄnik said that for EU policy to be effective, public awareness of air pollution first needed to increase.
Commenting on the Green Week conference â€“ which this year focused on air quality â€“ he said: â€œWe have learned that public awareness is of key importance for the implementation of existing air policy, as well as for the success of any future air pollution strategy.â€
He described some of the work being done across Europe to raise awareness of air quality through the likes of Twitter, smartphone apps, websites, TV weather forecasts and initiatives such as a large balloon in Paris which alerts residents about air pollution.
Mr PotoÄnik also praised UK science initiatives involving volunteers, such as the Open Air Laboratories Network (OPAL), for helping to raise awareness and said the country could be a model for the rest of Europe in this respect.
OPAL is a Lottery-funded partnership initiative that aims to get the public more involved with nature through a range of projects, including an air survey asking people to look for lichens and fungus on trees to help scientists map air pollution.
Mr PotoÄnik said: â€œWe heard last night how scaling up the UK’s Open Air Laboratories programme could realistically involve five million European citizens in research. That would create a genuinely impressive database!â€
However, he said more work was still needed to boost public engagement, highlighting calls at the conference for a â€œsimple EU standard for air pollution â€“ a â€˜smog indicatorâ€™ â€“ that would further raise awareness about this important issueâ€.
Various researchers, experts, policy makers, city representatives, regions, NGOs and industry representatives spoke during Green Week and Mr PotoÄnik said that debates had focused on â€œalmost all aspects of air pollutionâ€.
He said that the debates had provided â€œan invaluable source of information and a greater understanding of the challenges, which we are already feeding into the final phases of the on-going air policy review and its impact assessmentâ€.
Mr PotoÄnik said the debates had shown that combatting climate change did not necessarily have to come at the expense of air quality.
â€œClimate change experts have underlined the need to address air pollution and climate change in parallel, giving priority to black carbon and methane emissions,â€ he said, adding that here had been calls at the conference for more EU action on methane and ozone.
Highlighting the input from industry representatives during Green Week 2013, the commissioner said that the clean technology industry had called for stricter EU emission limit values for vehicles, as well as retrofitting requirements, improved emission test cycles, and promotion of SULEVs (Super Low Emission Vehicles).
Mr PotoÄnik said that exhibitions at the conference had shown that â€œadvanced technology for further emission reductions is already available, for most if not all economic sectorsâ€.
He added that the fertiliser industry had called for more incentives to promote low ammonia-emitting fertilisers and higher nutrient use agriculture, adding that he hoped to see â€œmuch more progress in the futureâ€ in the agriculture sector with regards to air quality.
Finally, Mr PotoÄnik put forward his hope that next yearâ€™s Green Week and 2014 as a whole would focus on creating a sustainable circular economy â€œthat lives in harmony with natureâ€.
Under the banner â€˜Cleaner Air for Allâ€™, the 13th the annual Green Week conference on European environmental policy took place between June 4-7, featuring up to 3,000 participants. Opening the event on Tuesday (June 4) Mr PotoÄnik said there had been an â€œabsolute decouplingâ€ between economic growth and air pollution (see airqualitynews.com story)