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The future of clean air in European cities

Air pollution causes millions of premature deaths worldwide every year. An EU-funded project studied citizens’ behaviours that impact the quality of urban air and developed a suite of innovative tools for a sustainable future living in the cities.

Climate Change and Environment

Aiming to create a major shift in the public understanding of the causes of poor air quality, the EU-funded ClairCity project invited citizens to give their opinions on air pollution and carbon emissions. Subsequently, using a high-resolution geographical approach, the team modelled emissions by the types of activities people take part in and, through quantitative analysis, examined their role in contributing to air pollution. Finally, policy action plans were created and fed back to city decision makers. Six case study cities with different air quality problems were selected – in some of them, such as Bristol and Amsterdam, NO2 pollutants are clearly the main problem, whereas in others, such as Sosnowiec, it is particulate matter (PM10). Moreover, the citizens seemed to have different pollution inducing behaviours: in Bristol and Amsterdam, road transport is the main issue, whereas in the case of Sosnowiec, it is residential heating. The city profile also conditioned the approach to public engagement. Bristol, for instance, adopted activities to reach out to children and ethnic minorities, both at greater risk to air pollution-related illness, by going physically to neighbourhoods where they are better represented and by talking with people rather than just relying on online surveys. School and filming activities, the Delphi process and the Skylines videogame developed by the project provided multiple entry points for citizen mobilisation. “A key finding from our evaluation reports was that different activities are needed to engage different types of people. Furthermore, the more people enjoy the engagement activity, the more likely they are to report increased understanding about these issues and to say they will change their behaviour,” explains the project’s Lead Communications Officer Laura Fogg-Rogers.

Health and the city

Fortuitously, the overlapping of the project’s last phase with the pandemic contributed to raising public awareness of the issues ClairCity has sought to address. “Many people across Europe have seen that air pollution and carbon emissions have dropped during our lockdowns and that our lifestyle and our environment are nicer when daily life is slower. This provides lots of opportunities for conversations about how our activities result in air pollution and carbon emissions, and what we can do about it,” points out Fogg-Rogers. Interestingly, while climate change is seen as distant and unrelated to daily life in cities, air pollution and its impacts on our health seem more relatable. As Fogg-Rogers suggests: “This really shows that linking air pollution and climate change offers a way to address both short- and long-term health implications.”

Clear your city too

ClairCity produced a total of 38 publicly available deliverables, the final of which is Final ClairCity Policy Package Reports, including results, recommendations and a snappy action plan for each city. “The project showed that the method of engagement and impact modelling is best suited for small-medium cities – apparently because larger cities already have solid models in place and a wealth of activities going on, which make recruiting citizens harder than in smaller communities,” concludes Irati Artola, project coordinator. “We will continue to showcase our results through international webinars and policy briefings to ensure that other medium-sized cities can take up our methods and toolkits. We will also engage with policy development work such as COP26 in the United Kingdom, in 2021,” adds Fogg-Rogers.

Keywords

ClairCity, cities, air pollution, activities, citizens, behaviour, carbon emission, policy, urban air, tools

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