EU citizens: we want stronger air quality policy

Walking, cycling and using public transport were the most popular form of action taken by individual citizens to improve air quality. Photo: Mugley CC BY-NC-ND

Almost four out of five Europeans believe that the EU should propose additional measures to address air pollution.

According to a recent Eurobarometer survey among EU citizens, a majority of Europeans believe that air quality has deteriorated in the last ten years. In Italy, as many as 81 per cent hold this view, and between 70 and 75 per cent in Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Spain.

The survey reveals a widespread dissatisfaction with actions currently being taken to address air quality problems, with seven out of ten Europeans considering themselves unhappy with efforts by public authorities to improve air quality. Other groups that were not seen as doing enough were energy producers (64%), households (61%), car manufacturers (53%) and farmers (50%).

There is also a general sense that the level of information about air quality is insufficient; almost six out of ten do not feel adequately informed about air quality issues, with 31 per cent of participants in Spain and 27 per cent in Luxemburg, Cyprus and Latvia of the view that they are not informed at all.

A large majority of Europeans (79%) think that the EU should propose additional measures to address problems related to air quality in Europe. Participants in the survey were specifically asked if they are aware of EU legislation on air quality standards and national emission ceilings, and out of those who know about these laws (25 per cent in both cases), more than half were of the view that they should be strengthened.

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, said “Citizens want us to act and we will respond by reviewing our air policy in 2013. They are asking for more measures in key sectors, and better information on policy effectiveness. To meet these challenges we need to work together at all policy levels – and follow up with action on the ground.”

Impacts of air pollution on health and nature are clearly a cause for great concern. Almost nine out of ten believe that health issues related to air quality, such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, are a serious problem, and around eight out of ten consider acidification and eutrophication as serious problems.

When asked about the sources of air pollution, more than three-quarters say that emissions from cars and trucks have a large impact on air quality. Just over two-thirds point to emissions from industrial production and from fossil fuel power stations, while 54 per cent say international transport. Fewer than half think that agricultural emissions from farms, fertilisers and burning of agricultural waste (41%) and residential energy use (34%) have a large influence on air quality.

Electric cars and hybrid electric/gasoline cars are considered the best car fuel systems in terms of air quality, and electricity the best household heating system, followed by wood biomass, gas, and biomass pellets. Seven out of ten believe that renewable energy should be prioritised as the main energy option in future. Some 85 per cent of Europeans agree with the “polluter pays” principle, whereby those who pollute should also pay for the costs for negative impacts on health and the environment.

Actions most commonly taken by individuals in the last two years to reduce emissions were to use public transport more frequently, cycle or walk instead of using a car (63%), replace old, inefficient equipment with newer equipment with better energy efficiency ratings (54%), replace their domestic heating system with a lower-emission system, and buying a low-emission car (22%).

Just under half of Europeans (49%) think that the challenges of air pollution can best be addressed at the European level, while 23% think these challenges are better addressed at the national level and 24% at the local level.
Carried out in autumn 2012, the Eurobarometer survey asked more than 25,000 EU citizens in the 27 member states a number of questions on the topic of air quality. The findings show strong support for further action at EU level and will feed into the European Commission’s ongoing review on EU air pollution policy, which is scheduled to come up with specific proposals for measures in the second half of 2013.

Christer Ågren

Information: European Commission press release, 8 January 2013
The full Eurobarometer results:


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