Bad City Air 2024: what we can do to improve air quality

The city with the most unbreathable air? It is Frosinone, which exceeded the daily PM10 (fine dust) limits for 70 days in 2023. On the podium with the Lazio city is an abundant chunk of the Po Valley: Turin (66 days of exceedances), Treviso (63), Mantua, Padua and Venice (62).

This was announced a few days ago by Legambiente, which presented the Mal'Aria di città 2024 report, drawn up as part of the 'Clean Cities Campaign', in which the figure that immediately catches the eye is that of the 98 provincial capitals, 18 have exceeded the daily limits. The second datum is more of an observation: if we take the targets set for 2030 as the point of arrival, 69 per cent of Italian cities are currently outlawed for PM10, 84 per cent for PM2.5 and 50 per cent for NO2 (nitrogen dioxide). As if to say: the fight against smog in Italy is an uphill race.

According to the report, of great concern is the fact that, despite a reduction in air pollutant levels in 2023, "cities are struggling to accelerate the pace towards a substantial improvement in air quality" and "their levels have been stable for several years now, in line with current legislation, but far from the regulatory limits that will soon be approved by the EU for 2030 and above all with the values suggested by the World Health Organisation", highlighting the need to take action as soon as possible to protect people.

The current standard sets 35 limit days with a daily average of more than 50 micrograms per cubic metre. In 2022 there had been 29 outlawed cities, in 2021 even 31. An improvement that does not, however, allow for optimism, especially looking closely at the overruns of the cities on the 'podium', but also because the improvements would not be due to the success of political actions taken to tackle the smog emergency, but to favourable weather conditions: "Italian cities, from North to South, still lag considerably behind the more stringent values proposed by the revision of the European directive on air quality that will come into force in 2030," Legambiente emphasises. Which, assuming we have already reached that date, points out that as many as 69 per cent of cities would be outlawed for PM10 and 84 per cent for PM2.5. We would be saved only for nitrogen dioxide, the only pollutant to have fallen in the last five years: but 50 per cent of the capitals would still fail to comply with the standard.

In order to escape from the grip of pollution, once again Legambiente proposes to act synergistically on the various sources of emissions, taking into account the specificities of each territory. Among the actions suggested are those on mobility (increasing the local public transport network and electric mobility, incentivising their use; implementing the pedestrianisation of city centres; promoting work from home; expanding cycle-pedestrian networks; redesigning urban space on a human scale, with speed limits of 30 kilometres per hour), on heating (progressive ban on boilers and biomass heat generators in the most polluted areas), on rural areas (where, if agriculture and livestock breeding are intensive, emissions can be higher than industrial and urban ones).

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