A lot of bullshit is written about air quality and traffic. But, unfortunately, lazy media blindly take over the screaming press releases about the hundreds of thousands of deaths without delving into the different types of air pollution and the causes; fake news.
A new report by the lobby organization CleanCities on traffic and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) starts with “Air pollution causes at least 270,000 early deaths every year in Europe.” Then, they neatly reference the source: European research on all forms and sources of air pollution and health impact. Not just about NO2 or traffic. The contribution of traffic to NO2 is 25 to 35 percent in cities. By the way, the number of premature deaths for NO2 is 49,000.
CleanCities’ research shows that low and zero-emission zones can significantly reduce air pollution. The study looked at five highly polluted European cities: Paris, Milan, Warsaw, Brussels, and Madrid, and the results were worked out for 2027 and 2030.
Even on the most polluted streets in those five cities, WHO NO2 standards are within reach when zero-emission zones are introduced by 2030. By 2030, zero-emission zones can almost eliminate NO2 emissions from local traffic, leaving only the contribution from other sources, such as wood burning. In addition, if car-free policies are implemented, further reductions in other forms of air pollution (such as PM2.5 and PM10) are possible.
Surprisingly, the calculated reduction in NO2 emissions from traffic is higher than the current traffic contribution to those NO2 emissions. The researchers may explain that again to my students.
The method of research and modeling is helpful for municipalities that have yet to substantiate their zero emission zone. For example, the NO2 emissions are well broken down by types of traffic by street level, the regulations coming in the cities were calculated, and wear and tear on roads, tires, and brakes were well considered.
In the scenarios, CleanCities looked at the improvement in air quality expected in 2027 and 2030 anyway with, among other things, cleaner engines (in addition to an analysis of the past ten years). That’s fair enough. The limitations of the study are also neatly stated in the report. However, the relationship to health is not elaborated on in the report.
The report teaches that hyperlocal measures have the most effect; at the area level (i.e., not for the overall municipality). And the report learns that you only get real results if you make all traffic emission-free or go for a low-car policy. The effect of zero-emission zones for just city logistics is limited. Moreover, part of improving air quality comes naturally with cleaner vehicle technology. But we already knew that. Less traffic is better than cleaner traffic.
Walther Ploos van Amstel.