Recent reports of choking smog in European ‘hot spots’ and several high-profile infringement cases highlighted that EU air-quality standards need to be implemented. Better cooperation and mobilising funding for targeted projects can help Member States in this endeavour. The LIFE Integrated Project coordinated by the Małopolska region of Poland shows how.
Air pollution is estimated to cause more than 400 000 premature deaths in the EU annually. In fact, 23 out of 28 Member States still exceeded EU air quality limit values for pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in 2014. More needs to be done to leverage EU, national, regional and private-sector support for targeted action – especially at ‘hot spots’ with particularly poor air quality.
[LIFE] planted a seed – a seed that we hope to see grow further, disseminate widely and lead to offspring action to improve air quality. (Already now we see the first positive effects.)
Guido de Wilt, policy officer at the European Commission's Clean Air Unit
An award-winning LIFE Integrated Project (IP) called ‘Małopolska in a healthy atmosphere’ provides an example of how it can be done. The project itself has a budget of around EUR 16 million (EUR 10 million of which from the LIFE programme); however, the project has been instrumental in mobilising additional funding of more than EUR 800 million from other sources. This additional funding helps to facilitate the implementation of the region’s air quality plan and improve the quality of life for some 20 million citizens: not only in Małopolska but also in neighbouring Silesia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
The regional government of Małopolska, where serious exceedances of air-quality standards occur, particularly during cold weather, believes the cost of replacing old boilers would be offset by health-care savings. And through knowledge-sharing, multiplier effects are expected to benefit other hot spots, such as Silesia.
“We want to learn from each other,” says Thomasz Pietrusiak of the Małopolska regional government. “The Czech Republic has strict rules to improve and exchange boilers. In Małopolska, we now have EUR 420 million for activities that could help improve air quality.”
Such activities include, for example, hiring 55 eco-managers to advise citizens on ways to stop solid fuels being used in household burners. Burning low-grade coal and wood is one of the reasons behind poor air quality in the region. The target is to upgrade boilers and improve insulation in some 155 000 homes.
This project also received one of the 2017 EU Ombudsman Awards for Good Administration – to acknowledge the efforts to secure this major investment by the European Commission LIFE programme teams in partnership with regional authorities and civil society.
Indeed, long-running LIFE projects like this one promote far-reaching cooperation and create critical momentum for mobilising stakeholders and funding options – local, regional, national and European – to tackle shared challenges like cleaner air for all.