The Transport & Environment Association (T&E) and the European Alliance for Public Health (EPHA) are putting their hands forward and calling on governments to pay attention to the environment and be brave about mobility. For two reasons: the first is the imminent injection of liquidity (the EU fund for the Covid recovery provides allocations for almost 700 billion euros) and the second is linked to air quality in the lockdown regime. EPHA recalls that “Italy has violated EU air quality regulations since 2011” and warns that every year 65,000 people in Italy (379,000 in European Union countries) die prematurely as a result of pollution. The “killers” are particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) and ozone (O₃). According to a study by the Alliance itself, contaminated air costs an average of 1,500 euros to each Italian between lost work days and health costs. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that children and pregnant women are the most fragile and estimates that 1% of infant mortality is linked to the inhalation of harmful agents. “Most Italian cities should limit vehicular traffic to deal with the increasing levels of air pollution”, therefore urged the EPHA, according to which the greatest benefits from improving air quality are obtained in large cities and those Central and Eastern Europe.
The restrictions linked to the pandemic have had beneficial effects at least on what we breathe, as shown by the decline in NO₂ concentrations (net of the incidence of weather conditions) in cities such as Paris (-43%), Madrid (-36%) and London (-31%). In Budapest, the lockdown resulted in a reduction of nitrogen dioxide limited to 8%. Speaking of Milan, T&E cites a more empirical than scientific fact: “The residents were able to clearly see the nearby Alps”. But Transport & Environment is concerned: “Pollution levels have started to rise again and in some cities they are even higher than before the pandemic.” The Association and the Alliance ask governments and first citizens to intervene in a targeted manner on urban mobility, preferring zero-emission solutions. The T&E urges the revision of taxes to favor zero-emission vehicles, hopes for the spread of the charging infrastructure and more preferential lanes for public transport, but also for those who pedal and walk. Above all, it calls on the EU to set a farewell to vehicles powered by fossil fuels by 2035.
Solutions such as limiting the access of polluting vehicles to cities such as Milan, London, Krakow and Athens, according to the Alliance “worked well, reducing PM and NOx pollution by up to between 23% and 36% respectively ”With savings in terms of social costs in the order of 130 million euros. The toll for “particularly polluting” vehicles to enter London, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Milan has reduced particulate matter by up to 17% and nitrogen oxides by up to 12% with a lower social cost of 95 million euros.
An integrated strategy is needed to improve air quality, also because as long as the energy used to power electric vehicles is not renewable, the environmental impact remains important. Pollution is reduced by reducing emissions, which in turn can decrease even with different lifestyles: smart working, for example, contains travel. Converting the public transport fleet is not an option – it is a necessity. The approach must be wide-ranging because, according to the data from the T&E study, an entirely electric mobility would cause the dreaded PM 2.5 to collapse by almost 70% in Budapest alone. In Madrid and Paris they would drop by about 60%, while in London and Berlin by just 22 and 26%.