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Sofia Brings Together Experts from across Europe to Joint Efforts on Air Quality Improvement  


Image source: sofia.bg

The international conference SofAir – a high-level forum on air quality in cities – was held in Sofia. The initiative for the conference came by Ms. Yordanka Fandakova, mayor of Sofia. The event was held for the second time and was organized by Sofia Municipality in partnership with the Joint Research Center at the European Commission (JRC), as well as with the support of the European cities network EUROCITIES and the Green Sofia team.

SofAir was attended by local government representatives of cities from Germany, France, Turkey, the Netherlands, Poland, Italy, Scotland and others. The main moderators of the event were Charlina Vicheva, deputy director general of the Joint Research Center at the European Commission, and Julian Popov, member of the European Climate Foundation.

The event was opened by Markku Markkula, vice-president of the European Committee of the Regions. We need more cities like Sofia, which is among the most active in a number of pilot projects, Mr. Markula said before the conference attendees.

During the conference, participants presented statistics on their cities and shared good practices in improving air quality in cities.

According to the preliminary data for the last heating season, Sofia has a 15% reduction of days with increased level of fine particulate matter. The city has the greatest progress in terms of measures to improve air quality in the renovation of public transport. With the supply of new buses this year, 90% of the buses have been replaced. Moreover, the city had not bought diesel vehicles for years. Over the next three years, domestic heating systems will be replaced by one-third of households in Sofia, according to Mayor Fandakova. She believes that namely cities can be the engine for major government decisions.

Cologne also works to replace solid fuels for heating in households, Harold Rau, deputy mayor, said. The municipality of the German city considers domestic heating as one of the main reasons for air pollution. As a further measure, Cologne plans to replace all public transport vehicles. Our main challenge is to motivate people to change their behavior, Harold Rau said.

As a successful program of the city of Cologne, he pointed out the support that citizens have to buy bicycles at half price. The bikes have to be equipped with luggage baskets so that the citizens do not have to use cars when carrying a lot of things with them.

In Paris, this year’s air quality improvement program includes financial support of EUR 400 for the purchase of electric bikes, according to Orelie Solan, municipal councilor in charge of air purity to the mayor of Paris. The Paris City Hall has planned more than 40 measures to tackle air pollution.

For 10 years, we have succeeded in reducing the fine particulate matter by almost 50% but the situation is not good. Many unpopular measures have been taken. Among them is banning cars produced before 2005 from entering the center of the city during weekdays, Orelie Solan said. Paris’ goal in the long run is to have no diesel cars and solid fuel heating in households after 2024.

Currently, Thessaloniki’s efforts are focused on developing a new air monitoring network. This was announced by Yannis Boutaris, mayor of Thessaloniki. The crisis in Greece also has a very bad impact on air purity. Our efforts are currently focused on renewing public transport with eco-vehicles, he said.

Expanding green areas and bike lanes are among the measures to reduce air pollution in Tirana, Andy Seferi, deputy mayor of the city, said. The city plans to launch a program to create 5 taxi companies to work only with electric cars, as traffic is the main source of air pollution in the city.

The increase of electric cars and reduction of diesel cars should be a major goal for Europe, Philippe Araujo, Porto’s deputy mayor, said. He is also the vice president of the environmental group at the European network Eurocities. I don’t believe that change can happen step by step. We need to force the industry to make the change, because it involves a lot of money, he said.

As a parallel event within SofAir, the national final of PowerUp! – a competition organized by Cleantech Bulgaria and EIT InnoEnergy – took place. This was the fifth edition of the competition, where nine startup teams and their ideas in the fields of mobility, energy, air quality, smart cities and agriculture were presented. The national finalist became GreenCharger, which provides a solution for the fragmented market for charging stations for electric vehicles. The startup will present Bulgaria at the Grand Final for Central and Eastern Europe when 10 teams will be selected to win place at InnoEnergy Highway Accelerator, an investment of up to EUR 150 000 euros, and one of the teams will also receive an additional award of EUR 50 000.

Video of the SofAir conference is available here.

Pictures from the national final of PowerUp! – here.