The Mayor of Sofia brought together colleagues and experts from all over Europe for general measures for clean air

European citizens believe that clean air depends on everybody's work.
The motivation of each individual is the most important in solving the problem of air pollution. This was the common opinion of representatives of the local authorities of 7 European cities who took part in the second edition of the "SofAir" international conference on air quality.

The forum, hosted by Sofia Mayor, Yordanka Fandakova, is organized together with the Joint Research Centre at the European Commission (JRC), with the support of the European City Network EUROCITIES and the team of Green Sofia, set up especially at the instigation of the mayor.

"Surveys show that 70% of people believe that the problem of air pollution is solvable only with the personal involvement of everyone. For me personally, this is our big chance because we have a huge number of followers on our side", said Mayor Fandakova. "Provisional data for the last heating season shows that there is 15% reduction in the number of days with exceeded limits for particulate matter", reported Mayor Fandakova.  In her words, cities can be the driver for large-scale and bigger government decisions. Because we first see what works, what does not, what is the direction that people take.

The renovation of public transport marked the greatest progress in terms of measures to improve air quality in Sofia. With the delivery of new buses this year, 90% of buses are replaced. She reminded that for years now, the city has not been buying diesel vehicles. Over the next three years, residential heating systems will be replaced in one-third of the households in Sofia.

The Minister of Environment, Neno Dimov and Mrs. Charlina Vicheva, Director of the Joint Research Centre at the European Commission attended the conference.

Cologne is also working to replace solid fuel for household heating, announced the Deputy Mayor, Harold Rau. The municipality in the German city considers household heating as one of the main reasons for air pollution.  As a further measure, Cologne intends to replace all the vehicles in public transport. “Our main challenge is how to motivate people to change their behaviour”, said Harold Rau. As a successful program of the City of Cologne, he pointed the support provided to the city residents to buy bicycles at half price. Bicycles must be equipped with a luggage basket to avoid having to use a car when one carries a lot of things.

In Paris this year, the Air Quality Improvement Program includes financial support of EUR 400 for the purchase of electric bicycles. This was announced by Aurelie Solans, Municipal Councillor in charge of Air Cleanness to the Mayor of Paris.  The Paris City Hall has planned over 40 measures to tackle pollution.

"Over 10 years, we have reduced pollution with particulate matter by almost 50%, but the situation is not perfect. Many unpopular measures have been taken. One is banning cars produced before 2005 from entering the city centre during weekdays”, said Aurelie Solans. The long-term aim of Paris is that after 2024, there will be no diesel cars in the city at all and no solid fuel for household heating.

Thessaloniki efforts are currently focused on the development of a new air monitoring network. This was announced by the Mayor of Thessaloniki, Yannis Boutaris. "The crisis in Greece had also a very bad effect on air cleanliness. Efforts are currently focused on upgrading public transport with eco-vehicles”, he said.

Increasing green areas and cycle paths are among the measures to reduce air pollution in Tirana, reported Andy Seferi, Deputy Mayor of the city. The city plans to launch a program for the establishment of five taxi companies that operate only with electric cars, as traffic is the main source of air pollution in the city.

The increase in electric cars and the reduction of diesel cars should be a major goal for Europe, believes the Deputy Mayor of Porto, Philippe Araujo. He is also the vice president of the environmental group at Eurocities. "I don’t think that change can happen in a smooth manner. We need to force the industry to make the change, because this involves a lot of money”, he said.

Other experts and representatives of local authorities from cities in the Netherlands, Poland, Italy and Scotland also participated in the forum. The event was opened by the Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions, Markku Markkula. "Our role is to identify the urgent problems and encourage members of our network to solve them. In this respect, it is also very important to mobilize the general public.

We need more cities like Sofia, which is among the most active in a number of pilot projects”, said Mr. Markkula at the conference. The key moderators of the event were Charlina Vicheva, Deputy Director General of the Joint Research Centre at the European Commission and Julian Popov, Member of the European Climate Foundation.