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ENVIRONMENT

Swedish city Umeå has Europe’s cleanest air

Umeå in northeast Sweden, has been named as having the cleanest air in Europe, according to a new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Swedish city Umeå has Europe's cleanest air
Umeå city centre, home to Europe's cleanest air. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

The EEA published The European city air quality viewer, an interactive tool showing the air pollution levels in 323 cities in Europe. Air pollution is the biggest environmental health risk according to the EEA. 

“This city air quality viewer allows citizens to see for themselves in an easy-to-use way how their city is doing compared to others on air pollution. It provides concrete and local information which can empower citizens towards their local authorities to address the issues,” says Hans Bruyninckx, the executive director of the EEA.

The cleanest air out of all these cities can be found in northern Sweden, in the city of Umeå, which has a level of 3,7 micrograms of fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, per cubic metre of air.

The EEA’s classification of air quality defines four levels of air quality: “good”, “moderate”, “poor” and “very poor”, with “good air” defined as having under 10 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter.

Only 127 out of the 323 cities in Europe are found to pass the limit of “good air” set by both the EU and the WHO.

All of the Swedish cities included in the study – Uppsala, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo as well as Umeå, had “good air” according to the report. Uppsala ranked 6th out of the 323 countries tested, while Stockholm ranked 9th, Gothenburg 23rd and Malmö 93rd. 

Second and third in the EEA’s ranking are Tammerfors in Finland and Funchal in Portugal.

 “Very poor air” was defined as over 25 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter of air and five cities on the index are considered to meet  this standard. Worst of all were Nowy Sacz in Poland, where 27.3 micrograms of particles were found per cubic meter of air, Cremona in Italy and Slavonski Brod in Croatia. 

Despite a reduction in emissions during the Covid-19 pandemic, the remaining 196 countries were all found to have above acceptable levels of air pollution. While lower levels of commuting have led to a decrease in levels of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, levels of particulate matter have remained stagnant.

The EEA’s experts said that emissions of particulate matter are the result of many different processes, including combustion of fuel for heating of homes, industry, and agriculture.

“White air quality has improved markedly over the past years, air pollution remains stubbornly high in many cities across Europe,” says Bruyninckx.

Last year, an EEA report found that Europe’s air has gotten cleaner in the last decade, but that the bad air caused 417 000 premature deaths across 41 countries in 2018 alone.

A similar study in The Lancet Planetary Health earlier this year found that air pollution causes around 200 000 premature deaths per year in Europe. They stated that if the pollution was lowered across Europe to below the limit of 10 micrograms per cubic meters, the levels recommended by the WHO, around 52 000 deaths could be avoided each year.

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ALMEDALEN 2022

Green Party leader: ‘Right-wing parties want to push us out of parliament’

Per Bolund, joint leader of Sweden's Green party, spoke for thirteen and a half minutes at Almedalen before he mentioned the environment, climate, or fossil fuels, in a speech that began by dwelling on healthcare, women's rights, and welfare, before returning to the party's core issue.

Green Party leader: 'Right-wing parties want to push us out of parliament'

After an introduction by his joint leader Märta Stenevi, Bolund declared that his party was going into the election campaign on a promise “to further strengthen welfare, with more staff and better working conditions in healthcare, and school without profit-making, where the money goes to the pupils and not to dividends for shareholders”. 

Only then did he mention the party’s efforts when in government to “build the world’s first fossil-free welfare state”. 

“We know that if we want welfare to work in the future, we must have an answer to our time’s biggest crisis: the threat to the environment and the climate,” he said.

“We know that there is no welfare on a dead planet. We need to take our society into a new time, where we end our dependency on oil, meet the threat to the climate, and build a better welfare state within nature’s boundaries, what we call a new, green folkhem [people’s home].” 

He presented green policies as something that makes cities more liveable, with the new sommargågator — streets pedestrianised in the summer — showing how much more pleasant a life less dependent on cars might be.  

He then said his party wanted Sweden to invest 100 billion kronor a year on speeding up the green transition, to make Sweden fossil fuel-free by 2030. 

“We talk about the climate threat because it’s humanity’s biggest challenge, our biggest crisis,” he said. “And because we don’t have much time.” 

In the second half of his speech, however, Bolund used more traditional green party rhetoric, accusing the other political parties in Sweden of always putting off necessary green measures, because they do not seem urgent now, like a middle-aged person forgetting to exercise. 

“We know that we need to cut emissions radically if we are even going to have a chance of meeting our climate goal, but for all the other parties there’s always a reason to delay,” he said. 

“We are now seeing the curtain go up on the backlash in climate politics in Sweden. All the parties have now chosen to slash the biofuels blending mandate which means that we reduce emissions from petrol and diesel step for step, so you automatically fill your tank in a greener way. Just the government’s decision to pause the  reduction mandate will increase emissions by a million tonnes next year.” 

The right-wing parties, he warned, were also in this election running a relentless campaign against the green party. 

“The rightwing parties seem to have given up trying to win the election on their own policies,” he said. “Trying to systematically push out of parliament seems to be their way of trying to take power. And they don’t seem above any means. Slander campaigns, lies, and false information have become every day in Swedish right-wing politics.” 

He ended the speech with an upbeat note. 

“A better, more sustainable world is possible. There is a future to long for. If you give us a chance then that future is much closer than you think!”

Read the speech here in Swedish and here in (Google Translated) English. 

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