A thick layer of smog engulfs the quaint Parisian streets, and Paris – the city of lights – is quickly transformed into the capital of gloom.
According to Plume Air, a highly innovative lab and now smart phone app, that detects and forecasts air quality in major cities, measured toxins in Paris air last September to be ranked worse than Shanghai, a recognized player on the list of the worlds most polluted cities.
Just weeks before Paris is due to host the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, implemented an emergency traffic ban designed to be enforced when air quality reaches increasingly dangerous levels.
Separate from the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) agenda, but still equally important, Hidalgo’s strategy created alternate driving days for cars with odd and even registration plates, and fines for anyone that does not comply.
Hidalgo has set the concern for reducing Paris’s worrying air quality high on her to-do list.
As a result, a report released from Airparif, an independent air quality monitoring organization, showed a 40 percent decrease in nitrogen dioxide throughout Paris after the traffic ban.
“We might envisage days without cars more often.. perhaps even once a month,” Hidalgo wrote on Twitter.
Unlike the flow of other industrial products in Europe, air pollution obeys no borders and is becoming a threat to the health of European’s.
In a 2011 report from the European Environmental Bureau, currently Europe’s largest federation of environmental organizations, 450,000 premature deaths in the EU were caused by air pollution, and €5.3 billion was spent that year to compensate for air pollution damages.
According to the European Commission, their 2013 proposal to reduce toxic emissions by imposing the National Emissions Ceiling, caused dispute and resistance by some EU member states.
However, next month the European Parliament will have a crucial vote and discussion on the proposal of a new National Emissions Ceiling, which will not only cover directly emitted particulate matter but also emissions form precursor gasses, such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.
The dreary cloud of air pollution that hangs over the EU poses difficult questions and provides no easy solutions from the various contributors.
Currently, the most worrisome and highly disputed toxins weighing down EU air quality are methane and ammonia emissions, which are primarily derived from agricultural production.
Cue the drum roll for the historical dispute over economy verse ecology.
Proposed methane and ammonia emission cuts from the European Environmental Bureau has farmer lobbyists, particularly the Copa-Cogeca – a formation of European Agricultural Unions, quite distraught.
Unlike the simplicity of limiting car use in Paris, reducing methane and ammonia emissions will result in cutting agricultural production, and in turn affecting food and trade for all of Europe.
Bert Brunekeef, Chairman of the Environment and Health Committee, believes that this abstract problem can be met with implementation and cooperation from all EU contributors.
“The technology is there to further reduce ammonia emissions from livestock farming but it needs to be applied more aggressively,” Brunekeef said. “If we want to make our economies more sustainable and less polluting, we need to become more circular in all sectors.”
Although far from perfect, Paris is setting an example by taking action at the root of the problem, a step which can be mirrored by all member states to further improve air quality in the EU.