By Yuliya Morozova and Nukaaka Tobiassen

Nobody is safe in the face of air pollution. And it does not even matter if you do not have a car or taking the bike on the way to work daily, emissions are everywhere.

“It is very difficult for authorities to say: “No longer own a car!” without putting in place sensible options to address people with day-to-day mobility need. It is important that “Cities and regions” offer people these options” – says Martin Adams, head of Air pollution in the European Environment Agency and one of the speakers on the “European Week of Regions and Cities 2017” that took place for the 15th time. On the event people from across Europe get an opportunity to debate and contribute into the future of the European cities and regions. One of the huge topics covered during the week was the air pollution problem and diesel emissions exceedances within the EU.

There are more than 100 million diesel cars in Europe – twice as many as in the rest of the world. Transition from petrol to diesel cars was a strategic choice for European countries and it was encouraged with tax incentives, since diesel engines emit less carbon dioxide – a heat-trapping greenhouse gas – than gasoline engines. However, diesel cars also emit significantly more nitrogen oxides (NOx) ­– a smog-forming pollutant linked to lung cancer – up to 40 times higher than the federal limit.

Maybe we do not all need to own a car in Europe. Particularly, if you live in a city, traveling to work should be easier – comments Adams on how to overcome excess of emissions.


EU policy with regard to diesel

Even though diesel penetration in Europe is now going down, partly as a result of the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal – still number of premature deaths caused by diesel emissions is outrageous – 300,000 premature deaths were recorded only in the European Union. In Europe about 8.5 million VW diesel cars have been sold with defeat devices installed, a far greater number than in the US where the defeat device was first discovered. As a result, the effects on health in Europe should be much larger than those calculated for the US.

In order to avoid a major risk from rising levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) that pose a threat to public health, Britain and France intend to ban cars on gasoline and diesel by 2040, the German leadership will do so in 2030 and Norway already in 2025. The question is: what are the possible consequences for the economy of the EU? It is known many member states earn benefit not only from distributing gas- and diesel fuels, but also from selling diesel and petrol cars.

Rather than thinking about how the EU economy will suffer, we should pay attention to what we have already done to overcome the issue of car emissions. “European Environmental Agency” works on the reduction of air pollution: look on the number of jobs created by “green” technologies and so for shifting of the technologies to enter the cleaner vehicles – electric vehicles. Of course, there will be a cost associated with transitioning to new technologies. But certainly, from the pollution side we very much welcome some of those costs, because we know: it will lead to a cleaner air in the future – also says Martin Adams.

Although the diesel fuel is considered as more safe for the environment, it is more harmful than the petrol because it produces solid particles which, when inhaled, cause diseases of the respiratory and the cardiovascular systems. If the emissions of diesel cars were as low as gasoline emissions, 7,500 premature deaths could be avoided, referring to recent diesel emissions study.


Why? where? how?

Diesel is one of the most dangerous polluters for the human’s health – says doctor Torben Sigsgaard, professor from the Department of Public Health — and the easiest way to get a dose of car emissions is to go to work around 8am and get back home around 4pm. This time — called rush hour — is considered as the most dangerous for the health, since at this time our body gets huge impact of diesel and gasoline emissions. And the only one weapon that can save your life from emissions influence is to avoid places with high level of air pollution as big cities with a lot of traffic.


Inefficient legislation  

Christel Martens, main negotiator on behalf of Denmark to the EU, councellor of its Permanent representation reckons that the problem should be solved exclusively with the strengthening of a legislation in place:

— After the dieselgate scandal — that had happened probably due to not very efficient national enforcement — we are getting the house in order and considering all these cheating going on as unacceptable. Of course, it has to be said that Denmark is not a car-producing country, which makes it easier for us to have a lot stricter position about the diesel, comparing to Germany for instance, that is a big car-producing country. What we need is to get them on board and try to be even more strict on the enforcement.