Zurich tops European cities fighting air pollution, Luxembourg bottom of pile

Berlin/ Brussels, Tuesday 31 March 2015. The city of Zurich has emerged as the winner of the ‘Sootfree Cities’ ranking which graded the efforts of 23 major European cities to improve air quality [1]. The Swiss city finished first thanks to a policy mix which includes a strong commitment to reduce pollution from vehicles, the promotion of cleaner forms of transport and low levels of air pollution [2].

Both in Zurich and in the runner-up city, Copenhagen, the number of cars has been substantially reduced and there are restrictions on highly-polluting vehicles such as diesel cars, trucks and construction machines. At the same time, cleaner forms of transport, such as public transport, cycling and walking have been greatly expanded. Vienna and Stockholm finish in third and fourth place, while the winner of the previous edition of the ranking, Berlin, comes in at number five. At the other end of the ranking, Lisbon and Luxembourg finish in the last bottom two places for tackling air pollution in only a half-hearted manner.

(c) BUND
(c) BUND

Arne Fellermann, Transport Policy Officer at BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany, commented: “Our ranking shows that cities across Europe have been actively fighting air pollution because of the EU’s air quality standards. Although 90% of Europeans living in cities today are still breathing unhealthy air, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Vienna or Berlin have either met, or are due to meet, the EU limit values within the next two years. Zurich has already progressed well beyond the EU’s norms.”


Cities in Europe today are nevertheless hampered by inadequate action at EU level to fight air pollution [3]. The EU should introduce effective EU rules that reflect the emissions of road vehicles under real driving conditions, strict norms that limit emissions from construction machinery [4], and a real tightening of the EU’s overall air pollution limits in 2020, 2025 and 2030. The latter would cut the amount of pollution each member state is allowed to emit and reduce long-distance pollution which cities are helpless to deal with [5].


Louise Duprez, Senior Policy Officer for Air Pollution at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said: “Cities can do a lot to improve air quality, but they are left exposed to some pollution they can’t control. This includes pollution which comes from outside the city, like emissions from agriculture or industry. The EU must be more ambitious if it wants to prevent repeats of last week’s deadly smog.”


The ‘Sootfree Cities’ ranking evaluated 23 of Europe’s cities in 9 transport-related categories including the promotion of sustainable transport, traffic management, public procurement and economic incentives, such as congestion charges and parking. The ranking also took into account how successful each city had been at reducing the pollution at its urban traffic stations [6].


The ranking concentrated on measures put in place in cities over the past five years and looked at air quality plans for the next five years to take into account changes that were already in the pipeline.


For the full ranking, further explanations about the methodology and the results from each city, visit www.sootfreecities.eu.

Below are a backgroundpaper and a paper on the methodology of the European City Ranking as well as a PDF of this press release.


Arne Fellermann, Transport Policy Officer at BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany arne.fellermann [a] bund.net, +49-176-81036672

Sébastien Pant, EEB Communications Officer for Air Quality and Resource Efficiency sebastien.pant [a] eeb.org, +32 4 70 13 47 38

2015-03-31 Background European City Ranking
City Ranking 2015-Background.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Dokument 301.5 KB
2015-03-31 Methodolgy European City Ranking
City Ranking 2015-Methodology.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Dokument 363.8 KB
2015-03-31 Press release European City Ranking
2015-03 PM_City ranking engl .pdf
Adobe Acrobat Dokument 446.3 KB

Notes to editors


[1] The ‘Sootfree Cities’ ranking was produced by BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany and was supported by the members of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). The ranking was funded through the Clean Air project and the Sootfree for the Climate campaign.


[2] Zurich is well below the EU’s air quality limits although it currently fails to meet the far stricter Swiss standards.


[3] European cities need help in bringing down the level of background concentrations of Particulate Matter (PM), which are very harmful particles, and more effective tools to cut emissions of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) at the source.


[4] A proposal for an EU directive on Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) is currently being discussed at EU level.


[5] Limits to the air pollution emitted by each EU country for 2020, 2025 and 2030, also known as the National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive, are currently being discussed at EU level. The draft report from the Member of the European Parliament responsible for the NEC Directive was released on 26 March and is available here. It will now be debated and amended before a committee vote in the European Parliament takes place in mid-July.


[6] The full list of categories used are: pollution reductions; how comprehensive low emission zones & bans for heavy polluters are; how clean public procurement for transport is; how comprehensive the strategy for non-road mobile machinery is; what type of economic incentives are used; how successful the city is at managing road traffic and other transport modes; how comprehensive the city has been at promoting public transport; how successful the city is at promoting walking and cycling; whether it provides attractive and comprehensive information to citizens about air quality.