Five cities with the cleanest air and how they got there

Posted 11/10/2019 by E.ON

According to the World Health Organization, exposure to outdoor air pollution leads to more than four million deaths annually worldwide. With the release of the UN's sixth Global Environment Outlook Report earlier this year, it's clear that drastic action needs to happen worldwide in order to reverse the degradation of the earth's ecosystems and save millions of people from dying due to air pollution.

Here are five cities that are leading the way with innovative clean air programs and the key lessons learned from their successes.

1. Spokane, Washington, USA
The United States ranks number 10 for air quality on The Environmental Performance Index.

Spokane transformed its city from a haze-covered valley that experienced over 200 days of unhealthy air in the 70's to clear blue skies with almost no bad air days by 2005. Despite almost doubling its population over that time, the air quality has stayed in compliance with all of the federal, health-based clean air standards over the past 14 years. 

This success can be attributed in big part to the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, which was established under the 1967 Washington Clean Air Act. The agency has a dedicated staff of 20+ professionals who provide technical, engineering, education, outreach, and administrative support to implement programs in six key areas. It measures air pollutants through several monitoring stations that provide real-time readings throughout the county. The agency also works to enforce local, state, and federal regulations for air quality control, partner with local businesses to reduce emissions, and educate the public with community-wide outreach initiatives.


2. Adelaide, Australia
Australia ranks number 1 for air quality on The Environmental Performance Index. 

The TravelSMART Adelaide program is an example of a community-level initiative that reduced air pollution and emissions on a local level. The program was established as part of the public initiative Clean Air 2000, with the goal of reducing car-related pollution in preparation for the Olympics in Sydney. 

The program tracked household travel behaviour and encouraged people to cut down on their car use. One hundred households participated and logged their travel habits, then were given a series of kits that provided hand-tailored suggestions for alternative transportation options, including tips like planning travel in advance and taking public transport once a week. 

The overall results showed 22.7% fewer car trips, 21.3% fewer kilometres driven, and 26.2% fewer hours in the car.

3. Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Canada ranks number 4 for air quality on The Environmental Performance Index. 

The Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) is a good example of a city that has taken a holistic approach to cleaner air by initiating an overarching sustainable environment strategy. It includes solutions such as “biofuels, reduced idling programs, district energy plans, community energy planning, energy performance contracts, pesticide use reduction, and vehicle and bus emission reduction." 
The Department of Environment and Labour has been involved in monitoring air quality for several years and implemented the Industrial Air Emission Fees in 2004 to enhance its efforts. 

Halifax is known for its environmentally conscious citizens, 22% of whom travel to work by using public transportation, cycling, or walking. It's also hailed as the number one city in Canada for carpooling with 23.5% of the population participating.


4. Helsinki, Uusimaa, Finland
Finland ranks number 6 for air quality on The Environmental Performance Index. 

The Clean Air for Helsinki program started in 2017 and focuses primarily on reducing nitrogen dioxide emissions from street traffic, street dust, and small-scale wood burning. One thing that residents are known for in Helsinki is riding their bicycles, which helps cut down on traffic congestion, fuel consumption, and carbon emissions that contribute to air pollution. Helsinki boasts 2,400 miles of bike lanes throughout the city, which is part of its overall sustainable transportation initiative to support carbon emission reductions. 

Finland took over the EU presidency in July of this year and is leading the EU's climate efforts by committing to cut its carbon emissions completely by 2035. Helsinki is one of the first 13 cities in the world to sign a Sustainable Development Declaration, pledging “to use the framework of the SDGs to do our part to help end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and work to prevent the harmful effects of climate change by 2030."


5. Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland ranks number 9 for air quality on The Environmental Performance Index. 

In 2018, the Icelandic government boosted its climate strategy with the goal of making Iceland carbon neutral before 2040 and to help meet its 2030 targets laid out in the Paris agreement. One unique feature of the capital city of Reykjavík is its natural source of geothermal energy. 

Nine out of ten households in Iceland are heated by geothermal energy and almost all of the electricity is produced from either geothermal or hydropower, which are both renewable energy sources. However, traffic congestion and changing weather patterns have contributed to some air pollution problems. 

Some of Reykjavik's clean air initiatives include working to reverse urban sprawl, promoting walking, cycling, and public transport, as well as continuing to invest in bike paths, installing more electric car charging points, and working with cities nearby to build a new rapid bus or light rail system.

From strong legislation and locally-led regulation, to renewable energy generation and alternative transportation, these cities have shown that it takes commitment, perseverance, and collaboration to reduce air pollution and eliminate carbon emissions in big cities around the world. 

Find out more about how we’re working to raise awareness about air pollution and how our solutions can help.


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