We need to clear the air

15 February 2022

An unseen menace threatens European cities. It lurks in the air we breathe. And it is responsible for more than 300,000 premature deaths each year.

Stop and think. Translate that. If that menace were visible. If we knew it was threatening our children. If we could do something about it…Surely, we would?

Well, the evidence on air pollution is already there, and it shows that raising vehicle emission standards helps to reduce air pollution.

Despite this, no major standards have been introduced at EU level for over 10 years.

Clean air by 2030?

Air pollution poses the biggest environmental health threat in Europe, according to the European Environmental Agency. It is the continent’s major cause of premature death and is linked to illnesses such as heart and lung disease, stroke and lung cancer. It also leads to biodiversity loss.

Currently, even though more than 75% of the EU population lives in urban areas, the EU air quality standards allow higher air pollution concentrations than what is suggested by scientific advice, and the revised WHO guidelines.

Today the chief source of air pollution in cities comes from transport. In Berlin, for example, transport has been shown to account for three-quarters of the nitrogen oxide pollution. Reducing polluting emissions from road traffic is, therefore, a priority for all cities tackling air quality.

Given the role of road transport in air pollution, strong action is required by the European Commission to achieve a toxic-free environment and reduce the number of premature deaths by 55% by 2030, in line with its Zero Pollution Action Plan.

The introduction of the Euro 7 standard is expected to impose more stringent testing and measurement conditions for vehicles; add non-exhaust factors such as wear-and-tear from breaks and tyres to the list of air pollutants, and toughen particle filter standards.

Initially expected in 2021, this new generation of emission standards has been delayed until July 2022, which will further delay the use of cleaner vehicles in cities.

However, it is sorely needed. Testing carried out recently by the Brussels Capital Region showed that vehicles compliant with the latest emissions standards, such as Euro 6 released less nitrous oxide than other diesel vehicles, while older vehicles were responsible for shocking amounts of air pollutants.

This is an especially important consideration when talking about standards because the average age of a vehicle on the roads in Europe is more than 10 years, which stretches to, for example, over 15 years in Romania and Estonia. Bulgaria is also one of the countries in Europe where the oldest cars can be found.

“In line with EU plans to phase out sales of all fossil-fuelled vehicles, which enters into force in 2035, there needs to be an effort to ensure that the cars and vans that remain on our roads are as clean as possible” comments Thomas Lymes, Policy Advisor for Mobility at Eurocities.

“That’s why local authorities are calling on the European Commission to publish the new generation of air pollutant standards as soon as possible, to achieve further progress in emissions reduction,” he added.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer