Air pollution is one of the main environmental concerns in Europe, especially in urban areas where three quarters of Europeans live. Poor air quality in cities is associated with significant negative health effects, which lead to huge societal and economic costs, and to about 400,000 premature deaths every year. After almost three years of intense cooperation, the Urban Agenda Partnership on Air Quality has recently presented a series of user-friendly solutions for cities, regions and Member States to help face and overcome that challenge.

The Urban Agenda Partnership on Air Quality gathers cities, Member States, European NGOs and the European Commission who have combined their competences and experiences in the field of air quality to improve the design and the implementation of air qualityrelated regulation, to facilitate access to funding/financing of relevant measures, and to create and share better knowledge on air quality.

On behalf of all the Partners, the Dutch Ministry for Environment and Infrastructure and Water Management submitted a joint Position Paper in response to the EU Open Stakeholder Consultation for the Fitness check of the Ambient Air Quality Directives.

“the Urban Agenda Partnership on Air Quality has presented a series of solutions to overcome the challenge”

Position paper

In the Position Paper, the Partnership confirmed the importance of compliance with EU Ambient Air Quality legislation and related target/ limit values, but their three key messages focused on the urgency to put health first and go beyond those values:

  • The aim of the Partnership on Air Quality is to improve air quality in European cities and to bring the concept of the ‘Healthy City’ to local, national and EU agendas as part of the Urban Agenda for the EU
  • The Partnership recommends a cooperative and integrated approach to address the challenge for cities to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all EU citizens
  • The Partnership believes that different governance levels (local, regional, national, European) should cooperate more closely on air quality issues, and that air quality measures should be better integrated with measures from other relevant policy sectors (mobility, energy, climate, etc)

“poor air quality in cities is associated with significant negative health effects, which lead to about 400,000 premature deaths every year”

Following these “key messages”, the Partnership put forward the following issues to the Commission in its joint Position Paper:

  1. Poor air quality has a serious impact on the health of EU citizens with susceptible groups at special risk. Currently, the air quality regulations direct member states and cities towards a focus on meeting air quality limit values. The Partnership would like to see this approach complemented by a focus on health improvement.
  2. As air quality in our cities and member states is influenced by local, national and transboundary emissions, improvement requires action at all levels. There is a need for co-operation at all levels of authority, including an exchange of knowledge and experience.
  3. The current EU legislation is lacking in certain areas, including regulation of increasingly relevant emission sources, such as automotive brake and tyre wear and consideration of pollutants such as PAHs, ultrafine particles and black carbon. A consideration of emissions under realistic future use conditions is essential in designing effective measures from both cost and health perspectives.
  4. The impact on air quality and health should be evaluated at the early stages of any activity that may have a negative impact on either one. Measures to reduce the negative impact on air quality are often more effective and less burdensome when introduced early in the process and the Partnership recommends a precautionary approach where necessary.

To complement its work for better regulation and implementation, the Partnership has also developed a series of practical tools.

Code of good practice

The Partnership produced a very useful Code of Good Practice for designing and implementing Air Quality Plans, developed in cooperation by the city of Milan and the other Partners. The Code provides useful guidance to facilitate local decision-making, improve the efficiency of air quality measures selection and governance, and ultimately help cities improve public health, while safeguarding compliance with EU legislation. The Code also contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals settled by the United Nations for the 2030 Agenda.

With user-friendly explanations, inspiring examples, and countless hands-on tips, the Code of Good Practice for Cities Air Quality Plans is a unique companion for guiding urban authorities through every step of the process of designing and organising an AQP.

Guidance for financing air quality plans

The Partners have also published a guide to identify, integrate and improve traditional and innovative financing schemes dedicated to the implementation of air quality measures. In doing so, the Partners highlighted opportunities to leverage the involvement of both private and public financial resources.

In addition, an innovative business model for bankable projects is also being produced by the City of Milan/AMAT with the support of the European Investment Bank to help cities overcome the funding/ financing issue and invest more in air quality measures.

Health impact assessment tool

The City of Utrecht tested and delivered a new Health Impact Assessment (HIA) tool, based on state-of-the-art methodologies to measure the health gains and costs of urban planning measures and help policy-makers and practitioners improve decision-making through a better selection of air quality-related measures. The PAQ2018 tool is an adaptation of the GGD tool and the AirQ+ tool. The strengths of these tools have been combined in order to function as an easy accessible method for the implementation of HIA by European cities throughout the regulatory process.

Communication toolkit

Last, but not least, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) on behalf of the Partnership also delivered an inspiring, hands-on Communication Toolkit for public administrators and NGOs to involve citizens in air quality measures and raise their awareness about air quality-related issues.

These deliverables are all available on the Futurium Platform (https://ec.europa.eu/futurium/en/air-quality) for free consultation and download.

New workplan

The Partners are currently developing a new workplan to continue their fruitful cooperation this year. Their future work will focus on the further dissemination of the Partnership’s results and on facilitating the exploitation of their results by other cities, regions and Member States.

“future work will focus on the further dissemination of the Partnership’s results and on facilitating the exploitation of their results by other cities”

Members of the Partnership are:

  • Member States: The Netherlands (Coordinator), Croatia, Czech Republic, Poland
  • Cities: Helsinki/HSY (Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority) (FI), Greater London Authority (UK), Utrecht (NL), Milan (IT), Constanta (RO) and Duisburg (DE – Representing the Consortium Clean Air Ruhr Area)
  • Stakeholders: EUROCITIES, HEAL (Health and Environment Alliance)
  • European Commission: DG Regional and Urban policy (Coordinator), DG Environment, DG Research & Innovation, DG Agriculture, DG Growth, the Joint Research Centre (JRC)

The Partnership is also actively supported by the URBACT programme, which has an observer status.