JRC: “European air quality has improved”



The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) coordinated and contributed to two of the ten chapters of the 2016 Scientific Assessment Report of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), which was officially launched in Brussels on May 31, 2016.


The main findings of the report show that air quality in North America and Europe has improved significantly over the past 30 years thanks mainly to policy-driven reductions in air pollution. The effects of such reductions are that hundreds of thousands of premature deaths have been avoided every year, the average life expectancy in Europe has been increased by a year, soil acidification has effectively been halted, lake acidification levels have been reduced, and fish stock levels are recovering in freshwaters where they had largely disappeared.


However, air pollution is still the main environmental cause of premature deaths in Europe (due mainly to high concentrations of fine particles and ground-level ozone), and ecosystem biodiversity is threatened due to nitrogen deposition.


The report calls for international action and coordination to help reduce urban pollution and meet the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for air pollutants. This can be achieved using existing technical measures and by adopting healthy lifestyles that contribute to cleaner air, such as reduced consumption of meat. Controlling air pollution is much less costly than dealing with health and environmental damages. Ratification and implementation of the revised Gothenburg Protocol (2012) could significantly reduce emissions of air pollutants by 2020, and the coordination of air pollution measures and science could help identify and harmonise further cost-effective measures for estimating emissions, and monitoring air quality and impacts.


The assessment report, prepared at the request of the Executive Body of the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP), summarises current scientific knowledge on transboundary air pollution issues within the UNECE region (which includes EU Member States, other non-EU European countries, Canada, the Central Asian republics, Israel and the USA). It describes the effectiveness of air pollution measures in addressing large-scale effects on forests and lakes, protecting human health and preventing other air pollution effects (such as loss in biodiversity and damage to crops, the built environment and cultural heritage).


The aim of this assessment is to serve as a basis for considering new directions for policy development and for identifying policy-relevant research questions. Opportunities identified to tackle remaining challenges are largely based on work carried out by the European Monitoring and Environment Programme (EMEP) Task Force on Hemispheric Transport on Air Pollution, which is co-chaired by the JRC. The JRC is also helping to tackle the remaining challenges through other UNECE Task Forces (such as those on Emission Inventories and Projections, Reactive Nitrogen, Integrated Assessment Modelling and Measurements and Modelling), the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), WHO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).


Source: European Commission


And in other news from the JRC…


SHERPA: a computational model for better air quality in urban areas


A novel modelling tool that can compare and provide data on air quality is now publicly available. The SHERPA (Screening for High Emission Reduction Potential on Air) toolcalculates how changes in emissions – stemming from actions on traffic or residential heating for example – affect air quality. It has been designed by JRC scientists to support public authorities in selecting sound policies to improve air quality in urban areas.


SHERPA is configured to work with a predefined set of input data (including emission inventories) that cover the whole of Europe at high (roughly 7 km2) resolution. This allows for the simple and straightforward testing of new air quality policies on any given domain in Europe. At the same time, and thanks to its flexibility, SHERPA can also use locally produced high quality data.


Once downloaded to a PC, the tool will allow users to quickly and easily evaluate the scope and effect of local policies on air quality. SHERPA can help policy-makers find the maximum air quality improvement that can be achieved with locally designed measures and identify the key sectors and pollutants to be addressed in order to improve air quality in a given area. In addition, the tool can be used to calculate the contribution to local air quality coming from neighbouring regions.


For more information, please click here.



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