London rises and Glasgow falls in air quality rankings

Calls for more work to tackle air pollution after latest European Environment Bureau rankings for 23 major cities in Europe

Politicians and campaigners have welcomed the news that London has risen two positions to joint sixth in the European Environment Bureau’s latest air quality rankings of 23 cities, announced today (March 31).

However, Glasgow fell in the rankings from sixth place in the previous 2011 rankings to 18th on the list — in joint place with Dublin, Madrid and Rome — and calls have come for further action to improve air quality both in the UK and across Europe.

Zurich in Switzerland topped the rankings followed by Danish capital Copenhagen, both of which EEB said had substantially reduced the number of cars and placed a number of restrictions on “highly polluting” vehicles such as diesel cars, trucks and construction machines.

But while EEB also praised work in the top ranking cities to promote public transport, cycling and walking, it criticised Lisbon and Luxembourg at the bottom of the table for tackling air pollution “only in a half-hearted manner”.

The ‘Sootfree Cities’ ranking evaluated 23 of Europe’s cities in nine 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, EEB said.

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 planned.

EEB said London — in joint sixth place alongside Helsinki, Paris and Stuttgart — has “shown effort to tackle its high levels of air pollution over the last years” including by implementing the Congestion Charge.

However, the EEB report warned that several of London’s measures “were softened after their introduction, a step that the city ranking evaluated very critically”.

Glasgow, meanwhile, received praise for its communications and walking and cycling policies, but scored poorly regarding traffic restriction measures.

EEB said that European cities had been “hampered by inadequate action at EU level to fight air pollution” and called on the EU to introduce tighter air pollution limits, limits on construction machinery emissions and real-world testing of vehicle emissions.

Louise Duprez, EEB’s senior policy officer for air pollution, said: “The recent smog episodes in cities like London or Paris are a reminder that cities can do a lot to improve air quality, but they are left exposed to pollution they can’t control. This includes pollution from sources which are regulated at national or EU level and the pollution that has originated outside the city’s limits, like emissions from agriculture. The EU must act if it wants to prevent repeats of this month’s deadly smog.”


Labour MEP for London, Seb Dance, welcomed London’s progress over the last year, but noted the “significant backsliding” of Glasgow in the rankings and called on the government to do more to combat poor air quality.

He said: “I welcome the improvement seen in London’s ranking – but as anyone who lives in the city knows, there is still much that needs to be done and a long way to go. The proposed Ultra-low emissions zone in London will help the situation but is still not extensive enough and should be implemented sooner.

“Further to that, it is extremely worrying to see Glasgow slip so dramatically from 6th to 18th place. This goes to show how important joined-up working is on matters such as air quality. The Labour Party has pledged to create a national framework for low emission zones to ensure that best practice is picked up across the whole of the UK. This will also make it easier to lower emissions with our EU partners.”

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder, who is currently one of the lead negotiators in the European Parliament over new EU national limits on air pollution, also said that London was one of many cities which “still have a lot of work to do to tackle air pollution”.

She commented: “But measures taken at the local level must be accompanied by clear national limits that will force governments to take action. We must be ambitious, for the sake of all those who struggle with respiratory problems and suffer most from poor air quality.”


Founder and director of campaign group Clean Air in London, Simon Birkett, highlighted the fact that the five cities above London in the rankings – Zurich, Copenhagen, Vienna, Stockholm and Berlin — have all either met or are due to meet, EU limits values for nitrogen dioxide over the next two years — unlike the UK capital.

Mr Birkett said: “The gap between London and the top five cities, which expect to comply with EU legal limits within two years, is staggering. The Mayor has no plan to comply with air pollution laws — which are breached by a massive margin along many central London roads — until after 2030, if ever.”

Related Links:

EEB ‘Soot Free Cities’ rankings 2015


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