3.12 Urban areas
Chapter 12 Urban areas - Environment in EU at the turn of the century
The problems of urban development and its impact on the environment have been difficult ones for European policy-makers. Some 600 local authorities in Europe have taken initiatives to implement a Local Agenda 21 and about 300 European local governments have adopted the Charter of European Cities and Towns, which emphasises integrated approaches towards sustainability and the need for better networking and collaboration between European cities in this effort.
Urban settlements are increasing steadily in Europe – with cities continuing to sprawl, causing land use stresses and social inequities. The population living in ‘urban agglomerations’ will increase by more than 4% over the next 15 years. Urban sprawl results in more traffic: passenger transport demand is expected to grow 40% above 1990 levels in 2010 and a 25% increase in car ownership is expected over the same period. Accession Countries will reach the lowest EU car ownership levels (336 cars per 1000 heads in Greece) by 2010, while no further growth is expected at the high end (673 cars per 1000 heads in Luxembourg) due to saturation. Urban sprawl is geared by land use and transport patterns, and so largely influenced by current consumption trends. Today, consumption accounts for most of the pollution burden caused by households – final private consumption is growing much faster than the gross domestic product. Ultimately, this results in increased water and energy consumption, and waste generation. However, in some areas, urban sprawl can produce better living conditions in sub-urban areas.
Though most cities have air pollution harmful to health, policies in place are expected to improve the situation considerably. The average exposure of inhabitants of large agglomerations in the EU to concentrations above recommended levels will decrease substantially from 1990 to 2010, although exceedances of threshold concentrations still occur. The most significant exceedances to be expected in 2010 are for nitrogen dioxide (NO 2 ) and Benz(a)pyrene. In the Accession Countries sulphur dioxide (SO 2 ) and particulate matters (especially PM10) also remain serious problems.
Nearly 40 million people residing in the 115 larger European cities still experience exceedance of the World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines (AQG) for at least one pollutant every year. There is though some evidence of a downward trend in nitrogen oxides and ozone levels from 1990 to 1995, but in many cities long term AQG for nitrogen oxides are still exceeded and maximum hourly ozone concentrations exceed the WHO-AQG. Ambient concentrations of SO 2, lead and PM10 have fallen over the last decade, thanks to cleaner fuels and energy sources and more efficient combustion technologies. Levels of ozone remain high in most European cities, exceeding WHO health guidelines. This is due mainly to road traffic emissions: road vehicles cause 44% of nitrogen oxides (NO x ), 56% of carbon oxide (CO) and 31% of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) emissions in the EU – within cities, these percentages are much higher. While there has been a mainly downward trend over the last decade in the total mass of particulates in the air, in 1995 the majority of large European cities exceeded recommended levels of the inhalable harmful fraction of particulate matters.
National and EU-level legislation aimed at reducing automobile emissions, e.g. the introduction of catalytic converters and unleaded petrol, resulted in considerably lower vehicle emission factors –although these improvements are partially offset by continuing growth in vehicle numbers. NO x and NMVOC emissions have declined since 1990 in the EU and in the Accession Countries – for NO x, faster in the Accession Countries as a result of the relatively more recent renewal of vehicle fleet.
In terms of noise exposure, it is estimated that more than 30 % of the EU population live in dwellings with significant exposure to road noise, in spite of significant reductions of noise limits from individual sources. The noise limits for cars have been reduced by 85% since 1970 and for lorries by 90%. The latest reduction to 74 dB(A) for cars and 80 dB(A) for lorries has led in particular to significant application of low noise technology. Furthermore, new vehicle standards have a noticeable effect on actual noise levels only when vehicle renewal is well advanced - and this can take up to 15 years. It is anticipated that air traffic growth up to 2010 can be accommodated at the main airports without significant increases in noise exposure. This is mainly due to the phasing out of noisier aircraft, fleet renewal and noise optimisation of flight procedures and air strip geometry. However, there may be increased noise at regional airports where rapid growth in air traffic can be expected.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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