Eurocities discuss air pollution in Antwerp
For the next three days Antwerp will play host to the organisation of European cities, Eurocities, a crucial advisory body for the European Commission on issues such as education, culture, diversity and the environment. In Antwerp representatives from cities such as Malmö, Copenhagen, London, Hamburg, Belfast and Berlin will seek measures to improve the air quality in cities. Traditionally the guest city chooses the topic. Air pollution is not confined within the country’s borders, however. The city of Antwerp is surrounded by various industrial areas, including its own harbour, the port of Rotterdam and the Ruhr district in Germany. The local authorities may take steps against air pollution, but at the end of the day results achieved locally remain limited, says Antwerp alderman for Public Works and Environment, Guy Lauwers SP.A. With a view to providing the city with more monitoring data, Antwerp takes part in the European Joint Air Quality Initiative, the Joaquin Project, an initiative that researches the impact of ultra particulate matter on human health. Thirteen partners from Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Great Britain will work together to establish better monitoring data for air quality, test measures against air pollution and improve communication. Measurements of particulate matter concentrations in Antwerp show that in some districts the daily threshold value of 50 microgram was exceeded on 37 days this years. Traffic is one of the biggest culprits in Antwerp, with 53% of particulate matter and diesel soot emissions coming from road traffic on the freeways around the city. Lauwers was therefore very keen to see the European Seaport Organisation ASPO attend Eurocities for the first time this year. Truck traffic between the harbours contributes heavily to air pollution and a lot of this traffic passes on the ring road around the city of Antwerp. It would be a crucial step forward if some of this traffic could be replaced by rail or inland navigation,” says Lauwers. Another measure that could work, is congestion tax, which will see polluting vehicles pay a tax to gain access to the city centre. Says Lauwers: “This must first be checked with Flanders. Europe will impose a fine if Flanders fails to reach the target. Flanders now wants an extension until 2015, when it will need to submit a no-fail action plan with solid guarantees. Congestion tax will form part of this plan.” Meanwhile the distribution centre at the sustainable, eco-efficient business site Blue Gate Antwerp could be a step in the right direction for the city. As a matter of fact the city plans to introduce electric delivery vehicles to service the shops in the city centre to avoid polluting trucks from entering and leaving the city centre.