In 2022, the city of Barcelona again failed to comply with the legal annual limit established for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a pollutant mainly associated with traffic, by exceeding the threshold of 40 micrograms per square meter (µg/m3). For its part, in Madrid, for the first time in 21 years, this maximum allowable limit has not been exceeded, thanks to favorable weather conditions (wind and rain in the last quarter). This is indicated by a study by Ecologistas en Acción whose reports are the reference in this field of administrative management.
With the provisional data provided by the Generalitat, during the year 2022, the Barcelona area would have once again failed to comply with the regulations, after respite granted by the pandemic during the years 2020 and 2021.
The Eixample station, in Barcelona, would have been the only one in the entire Spanish State that failed to comply with this legal limit last year, reaching 42 µg/m3, when the maximum allowed is 40 µg/m3, a value established in 2010. Barcelona thus accumulates more than a decade of non-compliance with regulations.
in the elliptical square
On the contrary, for the first time since systematic NO2 records are available, air pollution in the city of Madrid would not have exceeded said annual limit value, but has been equalized at the Plaza Elíptica station with a concentration of 40 µg/ m3, compared to the 41 µg/m3 reached in 2020 and 2021.
NO2 pollution in the two main Spanish urban areas remains at very high levels, equaling or exceeding the current annual limit value. A few days ago, the European Court of Justice condemned the Kingdom of Spain for the systematic and continuous breach since 2010 of the annual limit value of NO2.
In addition, NO2 levels in both agglomerations double the new annual limit value proposed by the European Commission for 2030, which is 20 µg/m3, and quadruple the annual recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO), set at 10 µg/m3.
Avoid EU sanction
The mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, has celebrated that the city has complied “for the first time” with the European air quality directive, a fact that he attributes to Madrid’s “comprehensive environmental strategy”, which covers “all sources pollution” from all corners of the capital, and to the work and understanding of the people of Madrid.
The councilor commented that, if the same values were maintained as in 2018, the European Union would have imposed “fines and sanctions”, but that complying with air quality standards allows “the recent ruling of the High Court of Justice of the European Union ( CJUE)” does not have “burdensome consequences for the city of Madrid”.
“There is not a station (for measuring air quality) in which the data has not improved compared to 2018,” the councilor stressed.
contain the euphoria
Faced with the declarations of the Madrid City Council government, Juan Bárcena, from Ecologistas en Acción, highlights that the results of the Spanish capital are not the result of actions to improve air quality, but are due to weather conditions of the last quarter of the year.
Bárcena sees it as unjustifiable that these high NO2 values are reached since they were established in 1999 (although they entered into force in 2010), and they have been exceeding two decades. “There was plenty of time to adjust to these demands, and they did not they did”, adds Bárcena to warn of the new limits proposed by the European Commission (20 micrograms for the year 2030). “These results today cannot be a license for inaction and for everything to repeat itself, so that when the new rule comes into force, they fail to comply.”
According to the Institute for Global Health, air pollution causes up to 6,000 premature deaths each year in the cities of Barcelona and Madrid, half of which are directly attributed to NO2 emitted mainly by the exhaust pipes of cars powered by fossil fuels, and especially diesel vehicles.
In this context, according to Ecologistas en Acción, the low emission zones of Barcelona and Madrid are proving to be insufficient to effectively reduce air pollution, in the case of Barcelona because it affects very few cars and in the case of Madrid for being limited to two very small areas of the city and being increasingly permissive.
“The objective of the low emission zones should not be to speed up the renewal of the car fleet, but rather to achieve a substantial reduction in the number of vehicles in circulation, which will reduce air and noise pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, accidents of traffic and the abusive occupation of public space”, points out this organization.
In the opinion of Ecologistas en Acción, the city councils of Barcelona and Madrid should drastically and urgently reduce the motorized traffic that accesses and circulates daily through both cities to achieve a significant improvement in the quality of the air breathed by its 6.2 million inhabitants. . In the recipe to achieve this, the strengthening of metropolitan public transport and favoring active pedestrian and cyclist mobility, in the shortest urban distances, is also cited as a solution.
Despite not breaching the current annual limit value, most cities also exceed both the new annual value proposed for NO2 by the European Commission and the WHO recommendation, so they should also be implementing effective traffic reduction measures.
The main Spanish city councils, which have decided to breach the legal obligation contained in the State Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition to establish low emission zones in their cities before 2023, to the detriment of the health of their neighbourhoods.