press release
01/02/2008

State of the environment and sustainable development policies in major European cities: air quality a concern

Urban Ecosystem Europe Survey
 
Brussels and Antwerp among the best for water consumption
 
At a round table with a panel of experts, on 1 February 2008, Dexia and Ambiente Italia presented the conclusions of a study into the state of the environment and ‘good practices’ in sustainable development in 32 major European cities, including Paris and Brussels.
 
Commencing in 2006, the research institute Ambiente Italia, in collaboration with the Dexia Group and Legambiente, continued in 2007 with its study dealing with the quality of the environment in the major conurbations of the European Union. This year it deals with 25 indicators (air quality, public transport and mobility, cycle paths, waste, used water treatment, utilisation of renewable energies, energy consumption, parks and gardens, and so on), enabling it to draw up a complete statement on the environmental situation in the major European cities and to highlight the best local practices in matters of sustainable development policy.
 
Air quality
Among the principal conclusions: the generally mediocre quality of air and more specifically the high concentrations of NO2 and fine particles (PM10). Indeed, whilst the number of days of exposure to daily concentrations of fine particles exceeding 50 mg/m3 is limited to 35 per annum, 84% of the cities studied (including Brussels and Antwerp) exceed that limit. The situation is particularly critical in London, Rome, Milan and Madrid, where the number is four times higher than the limit.
 
The figures are as worrying for concentrations of nitrogen oxide NO2, an atmospheric pollutant damaging to human health (respiratory problems, allergic reactions and so on) and contributing to global warming. In fact, despite a reduction of global NO2 emissions in the order of 25% since 1980, approximately 30% of the urban population of Europe is still exposed to annual average concentrations higher than the target set for 2010, namely 40 µg/m3 (Directive 1999/30/EC). In nine cities out of ten, in certain places, especially where traffic is particularly dense, concentrations are recorded (well) in excess of the threshold of 40 µg/m3.
 
Finally, we also note that the majority of cities studied (in particular Antwerp and Brussels) have or are in the process of adopting an air quality plan.
 
Climate change, renewable energies
 
As for CO2 emissions, we observe in contrast that 21 of the 32 cities questioned, including Antwerp and Brussels, have fixed clear reduction targets, sometimes even more ambitious than national targets. Indeed, Berlin and London plan, by 2020, to have reduced their CO2 emissions by 25% and 20% respectively (against national targets of 20% and 12.5%).
 
It is to be noted in this regard that on Tuesday 29 January the European Commission launched the ‘Covenant of Mayors’, an initiative aimed at making cities first-line actors in the fight against global warming and the implementation of sustainable energy policies. Almost 100 cities throughout Europe, including 15 capitals, have already shown their support for this initiative. The cities and regions which have signed the ‘Convenant’ of Mayors’ officially undertake to reduce their CO2 emissions by 20% by the year 2020.
 
However, whilst some major cities like Vienna, Munich, Barcelona and the Greater Lyon conurbation set examples when it comes to solar energy (installation of thermal or photovoltaic panels on public buildings), this route is broadly under-used in many cities. Still regarding energy, collective heating systems are clearly more widespread in Northern Europe, for instance with a cover of 60% to 70% of the population in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Aalborg, 80% in Riga and Tampere and even almost 100% in Helsinki and Copenhagen.
 
A general trend towards taking better account of these issues is real however: more than a half of the cities studied state that they have carried out energy audits of some of their public buildings whilst 22 of them indicate that they have taken concrete actions to reduce their energy consumption.
 
Finally, we would also point out the recourse to LED, which are less energy-consuming, instead of classic incandescent bulbs, for traffic lights in some major cities. In this regard, Oslo sets a clear example with 100% use of LED, followed by Greater Lyon (61%) and Gothenburg (42%). In Antwerp, where the system is being tested, 1% of traffic lights are now equipped with LED.
 
Waste management
 
With the exception of Dresden, none of the cities studied had achieved the European target of 1 kg of waste produced annually per inhabitant. The average quantity of waste per inhabitant (household and other waste, before sorting and recycling) amounts to 501 kg. We should nonetheless emphasise that thanks to their selective collection systems, some cities, such as Antwerp, manage to reduce their residual waste to 300 kg or less (i.e., far less than the 500 kg of residual waste per inhabitant in some cities in Southern Europe like Naples, Rome, Patra and Lefkosia).
 
With regard to water purification, the situation is considerably more positive however, with all or almost all the populations of the cities studied in fact connected to the mains.
 
Mobility and transport
 
European cities must all face the challenge of increasing traffic volumes and their negative impact on the quality of life (air quality, noise, occupation of space, loss of time and so on) and global warming.
 
One of the principal responses to this problem at a local level consists of developing the public transport network and promoting its use to a maximum. In this regard, Prague was the outstanding model, with 718 passengers transported annually per inhabitant and a public transport utilisation rate of 58% for journeys to and from work, against only 27% for the car. At 250 and 251 passengers transported per inhabitant respectively, Brussels and Antwerp are just below the average for the cities studied (263 passengers transported per inhabitant). We should also note the excellent result from Rome, Vienna, Milan and Stockholm (400-500 passengers transported per inhabitant), as well as Berlin, Madrid, London and Riga (320-400 passengers transported per inhabitant).
 
The existence of a more or less extensive network of cycle paths is also an informative indicator of the use of non-polluting modes of transport within large conurbations. In this regard, some cities in Continental or Northern Europe again stand out, with sometimes impressive cycle utilisation rates for journeys to and from work (Copenhagen: 29%). By virtue of a judicious combination of the cycle for short distances and public transport for longer distances, cities like Vienna, Gothenburg, Helsinki, Hanover, Copenhagen and Stockholm also manage to keep vehicle utilisation rates for journeys to and from work below the 50% mark (against up to 70% in the large Italian conurbations).
 
Dresden, Heidelberg, Brussels and Antwerp among the best for water consumption
 
At 108 litres per day, Brussels and Antwerp are classified among the best in terms of domestic water consumption, just behind Dresden and Heidelberg and in front of Barcelona. All in all, the water consumption per inhabitant is lower in the cities of Central Europe (123 l/d/inhab) than in those of the North (167 l/d/inhab) and South (168 l/d/inhab). On average, it is also slightly lower in the smaller cities (145 l/d/hab) than the very large cities (160 l/d/inhab).
 
 

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