07/09/2020 - 14:24 h
Today is the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies. This is the first year the annual event is being held, following the UN General Assembly’s decision to designate the date of 7 September for raising awareness of the need to make further efforts to improve air quality and reduce atmospheric pollution.
The aim of establishing this world day is to issue a call for global action to combat air pollution, one of the most serious challenges to our health and environment. The day invites us to reflect on how we – as companies, organisations and associations or as individuals in our daily lives – need to act to improve our cities’ air quality.
Nine out of every ten people breathe polluted air
According to the United Nations, nine out of every ten people breathe polluted air. Atmospheric pollution poses one of the most serious risks to people’s health and is one of the main avoidable causes of deaths and illnesses around the world, being responsible for approximately 6.5 premature deaths (data from 2016).
It also affects the environment as it reduces the supply of oxygen to the world’s oceans, making it difficult, for example, for plants to grow, and it has a direct impact on the effects of climate change.
Studies carried out by the Barcelona Public Health Agency show that air pollution in Barcelona causes over 350 premature deaths a year and represents an especially relevant problem for the most vulnerable in the city’s population: children, elderly people, pregnant women and people with health problems – such as asthma or heart or pulmonary disease – suffer more from its effects the most.
What can we do to improve the quality of the air?
Barcelona has eleven stations integrated into Atmospheric Pollution Monitoring and Forecasting Network which measure the concentration of the main pollutants in the air that are harmful to people’s health. The latest of these monitor was installed in Av. Meridiana this spring.
That data being collected through this network can be displayed on the environmental-data map, thereby enabling us to find out the extent of pollution in any of the city’s areas and to establish effective planning tools for protecting the population’s health. Further information
The city works together with all the other public authorities to improve air quality. November 2016 saw the City Council approve its government programme of measures against atmospheric pollution in Barcelona for combating air pollution in the city. The programme includes 58 structural and extraordinary measures for combating high levels of pollution resulting from both short-term environmental episodes and long-term problems. Further information
The programme’s most notable measure is the establishment of the Barcelona Ring Roads Low Emissions Zone, which has been protecting 95-square-km area since 1 January 2020. The zone includes the municipalities of Barcelona, Hospitalet de Llobregat, Sant Adrià de Besòs and part of Esplugues de Llobregat and Cornellà de Llobregat. Vehicles cannot travel in that zone without a DGT environmental label. Fines will start to be issued for violations of this measure as from this coming 15 September.
Once the new measure was in place, and for its first month, some 40,000 vehicles lacking DGT environmental labels (because they pollute too much) stopped travelling through Barcelona. This reduced nitrogen oxide levels by 19%. The number of polluting vehicles travelling through Barcelona also dropped by 50%, compared to the number found from a 2017 characterisation study. The next four years are expected to see 125,000 polluting vehicles taken off the roads. Further information
Measures to ensure a more sustainable mobility will also be implemented along with the restrictions on the most polluting vehicles inside the LEZ. As for public transport, the bus network is being expanded and improved and the tram line connection boosted. In addition, both the bicycle-lane network and pedestrian spaces are being extended to the entire city.
In the urban part of the city, initiatives such as superblocks and street-calming enable progress to be made towards a healthy, sustainable urban model with local green areas. Energy-saving initiatives are also being carried out (in municipal buildings and facilities, new housing blocks – solar panels, cool-heating systems, etc.), and in greening the municipal fleets (cleaning services, gardening, etc.) to reduce the carbon footprint as much as possible. Further information
Improving the quality of the air is also one of the top goals of the Climate Emergency Declaration, approved this January 2020, a key landmark for the city to take on the current climate crisis. Further information