Many European cities suffer from poor air quality and still exceed the European standards prescribed by the Air Quality Directive, and the guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). This is especially the case for PM2.5, focus of this work. While international, national and local level actions to reduce air pollution have undoubtedly resulted in an overall improvement of the air quality over the years, there are still problems, which are localised in specific regions and many cities. A key issue is to determine at which scale to act in order to abate these remaining air pollution problems most effectively. Central to this, for cities, is a quantitative assessment of the different origins of air pollution (urban, regional, national and transboundary) to support the design of efficient, effective air quality plans, which are a legal obligation for countries and regions whenever exceedances occur.
The “Screening for High Emission Reduction Potentials for Air quality” tool (SHERPA) is used in this work to quantify the origins of air pollution in cities and regions, both from a spatial (urban, country…) and sectoral (transport, residential, agriculture…) perspectives. For PM2.5 we conclude that (1) for many cities, local actions at the city scale are an effective means of improving air quality in that city. Cities have a role to play by taking actions at their own scale; (2) the target sectors and scales to abate air pollution are city specific. The impact of a given abatement measure on air quality indeed differs from city to city, even for cities that are located in the same country. Consequently, it is important to take into account these city-specific circumstances when designing air quality plans and (3) for many cities, sectoral measures addressing agriculture at country or EU scale would have a clear benefit on urban air quality.