European Commision’s weak warning to highest polluting countries
di Leah Lombardi
In February of this year the European Commission warned Italy along with four other EU member-states that they must lower the levels of air pollution. The major problem areas cited for Italy are Rome, Milan, and Turin and the main concern is road emissions. Despite the use of “warn” in the press release from the European Commission, the commission has failed to outline concrete consequences for countries who continue to exceed the air pollutant levels set by the EU. In order to see some results, perhaps the commission should do more to incentivize.
A report published in 2015 from the European Environmental Agency entitled “Air Quality in Europe” depicts Italy as the country in Western Europe with the highest levels of air pollutants. The 2016 report relies on data gathered in the year 2014. The report attributes 70,031 premature deaths in 2013 as a result of pollution. From these same pollutants the EEA concludes that per every 100,000 inhabitants 1,594 years of life are lost. Other EU member states are far off from the Italian statistics, the second biggest offender being Germany with 1,112 years of life lost per 100,000 inhabitants.
The question is now, what is Italy doing wrong? The truth may be that Italy is doing no more “wrong” than any other European country. While human behavior contributes to air quality, weather patterns and geographic landscapes in a given region will determine that air composition in that region. The issue of air pollution came to prominence in Italy in 2015 when air pollution levels reached record highs in Milan. These record highs occurred during a period of incredibly stable weather in Milan. With little rain and little wind, the emissions from cars and industries in the urban hub became heavily concentrated. Additionally, Milan is located in a valley increasing the propensity of emissions to hang in the air.
Other cities including Rome and Turin have faced challenges with air pollution. All of these cities have attempted to combat the high levels of pollution with travel bans. In Turin, the government offered free bus passes to discourage people from using their cars and in Milan, the government placed a fine on the use of any car that didn’t use clean energy for three days between the hour of 10am-4pm.
Travel bans and other short-term solutions have failed to make significant progress in the air-quality of these Italian cities. If the European Commission is going to continue to call for an increased commitment in air pollution prevention from the culpable countries, the commission needs to incentivize. While saving lives from improved air quality may seem like sufficient motivation to act, progress is more likely in the face of a tangible reward, or consequence from the European Commission.