France Declares ‘Air Pollution and War’

Air Pollution

France’s worst air pollution in 10 years

Exhaust gas, heating, and other pollutants. Construction of eco-friendly means of transportation and maintenance of heating facilities are urgent

The Ild France area, the capital of France, suffered from severe winter air pollution. Air pollution concentrations frequently exceeded the standard level due to vehicle exhaust, winter heating facilities, and low wind weather. Environmental experts point out that in order to reduce air pollution, traffic regulations such as a two-day vehicle system are also important, but above all, the root cause of the problem must be solved. The fundamental measure is to build an infrastructure to easily use eco-friendly means of transportation such as bicycles and to overhaul heating facilities in old houses.

Traffic regulations, such as a two-part vehicle system, are important to solve the air pollution problem in large cities, but fundamental solutions are needed for factors that constantly reduce air quality across France, such as housing heating, factory emissions and agricultural waste emissions This is the explanation of Denny Buajeng, a spokesman for the Nicola Willo Foundation, a French environmental group that suffered the worst winter air pollution in 10 years. For example, Parisians suffer great inconvenience due to the accumulation of pollutants in the atmosphere below every time a wind-free high-pressure area is formed in winter.

The main culprit of air pollution in Paris is automobile exhaust. Grenoble, a small town in southeastern France, is no exception to air pollution, but the main culprit of fine dust emissions here is wood boiler heating. Fine dust from wooden boilers exceeds 40% of Grenoble’s total fine dust emissions. In addition, residents in many factory areas and agricultural areas are constantly exposed to toxic substances.

Air pollution is also closely related to public health. According to the survey, 42,000 people die early from respiratory diseases caused by air pollution annually in France. The French Board of Audit and Inspection estimates the cost of managing diseases caused by air pollution from 20 billion euros (about 24.2 trillion won) to 30 billion euros (about 36.3 trillion won) per year. A report submitted to the Senate said the central government and local governments pay 100 billion euros (about 121 trillion won) annually due to air pollution problems.

The French Board of Audit and Inspection evaluates that air pollutant emissions have steadily decreased since 1990. Bernard Garni of the Atmo-France Secretariat, a coalition of organizations authorized to measure atmospheric conditions, explains that the reason for the decrease in air emissions is because the industrial structure has changed from manufacturing to service, but the manufacturing process has advanced and the performance of pollutant filters has improved.

In this context, the frequent air pollution warnings may be due to the fact that air pollution status can be better understood. An alert is issued when air pollutants exceed the World Health Organization’s recommended standards. According to the standards of the Health Organization, an alarm is issued when fine dust (PM10) of less than 10 microns (μm, 1 μm = 0.001mm) exceeds 50 mg/m. (If an air pollution warning is issued, public transportation such as buses, subways, and urban railroads can be used for free instead of restricting the use of private cars. -Editor) Of course, even if the amount of fine dust in the atmosphere is below the standard of the health organization, it does not necessarily mean that the atmosphere is good.

air pollution-france
▲ France’s metropolitan area is suffering from severe winter air pollution. The sky near the Eiffel Tower in Paris in December 2016 is cloudy with air pollution. REUTERS

54% of Nitrogen Oxide is Road traffic

Currently, France’s standards for fine dust and nitrogen oxides exceed those of the European Union (EU). In fact, the European Commission sent a letter to the European Court in April 2015 saying it would file a lawsuit against the French government unless the French government quickly came up with measures to reduce air pollution in more than 10 major cities, including Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Marseille, Martinique, La Valle D’Arve, Nice, Toulon, Dué, Bettung and Valencienne.

Moreover, there are many toxic substances that cause air pollution in addition to 12 regulated pollutants, including fine dust, nitrogen oxides, and ozone, which are the three major pollutants. Among them, the air pollution problem caused by ammonia (NH3) is serious. Ammonia is mainly emitted from the agricultural sector, and in most cases, it is dispersed into the atmosphere or discharged from livestock farms during the nitrogen fertilizer spraying process. Even when spraying pesticides, it is a problem because some of them are scattered into the atmosphere.

The French government has implemented a number of policies to solve both temporary air pollution deterioration and essential air pollution problems at the same time. In particular, measures were taken against the transportation sector, which is considered the main culprit of air pollution. One-third of the French population is routinely exposed to fine dust emitted by cars, and 54% of nitrogen oxide emissions are also caused by road traffic, which is why the transportation sector is responsible. This situation is also due to the high proportion of diesel vehicles in France. According to spokesman Denny Buajeng, the reason for the high proportion of diesel vehicles was that the government gave tax benefits to companies and households in the 1980s to promote diesel vehicle consumption. In 1990, diesel cars accounted for only 16 percent of all cars, but now they have soared to 62 percent.

As a result, the ruling Socialist government has begun to reduce tax cuts for diesel vehicles. In 2014, the oil tax per liter of high-end gasoline was 20.7 cents (about 250 won and 0.01 euros per cent) higher than that of diesel oil, but in 2015, the gap between gasoline and diesel oil was 18 cents, and in 2016, it decreased to 15.2 cents. It remains to be seen whether the oil tax policy stance will continue once the presidential election is over and a new president is elected.

The government introduced various tax benefits to promote the purchase of electric vehicles, but electric vehicle prices are still very high. It has also set up an incentive system for ordinary people to give up old-fashioned diesel vehicles and buy used gasoline vehicles that are not long on the market, but that is not enough. And to avoid a second “diesel gate” (a case where Volkswagen in Germany manipulated diesel vehicle software and passed the authorities’ emissions inspection – editors), new automobile emission standards and emissions inspection procedures should be strengthened. Experts explain that it will take a considerable amount of time to significantly reduce diesel vehicles and increase the proportion of electric or gasoline vehicles. Nevertheless, the mayor of Paris has an ambitious plan to completely remove diesel vehicles from Paris by 2020. To this end, the city government plans to provide additional support for households with diesel vehicles.

The two-part vehicle system, which is implemented when an air pollution warning is issued, has been found to be effective in reducing air pollution. Airparif, an air pollution measurement company, announced that when the two-part vehicle system was applied in Paris, traffic volume, fine dust emissions, and nitrogen oxide emissions decreased by 18%, 6%, and 10%, respectively. However, the two-part vehicle system has the disadvantage of treating vehicles that emit a lot of pollutants the same without distinguishing them from vehicles that emit a lot of pollutants. Several cities have introduced a “Crit’Air” rating system that classifies vehicles according to the level of pollutant emissions. A clear air sticker is attached to the vehicle to indicate the pollutant emission rating of the vehicle.

#Fine dust from wood boilers and fireplaces

If an air pollution warning is issued, the operation of vehicles that emit the most pollutants based on the Crete Air rating, not the standard of the hole at the end of the license plate, can be restricted. According to the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME), the introduction of the Crite Air system can reduce fine dust emissions by 12% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 10%.

In the long run, the best way to reduce air pollution in cities is to change the way they move. “Now there will be no place for large diesel vehicles in the city,” Deeni Buajeng said. “People will use vehicles by renting or sharing light and small light vehicles.” To that end, the Nicola Willo Foundation emphasizes the importance of establishing an incentive system for people to use public transportation such as taxis, shared vehicles, buses and minibuses, which have much more hours than private cars standing for 95 percent of the 24 hours a day.

Above all, however, the use of cars itself should be reduced. It recommends ‘active movement’ such as using public transportation and cycling or walking. According to Bouajeng’s explanation, electric bicycles are an efficient means of transportation, but bicycle utilization in France is still very low. Buajeng argues that in order to promote bicycle use, dedicated roads should be expanded and bicycle use compensation systems (employers compensate with cash or allowances when employees need to travel in relation to work – editors).

Strasbourg is one of France’s highest rates of bicycle use. Strasbourg’s deputy mayor and environmental policy officer Alain Jund said, “Strasbourg is an honor student of inferiority. The rate of bicycle use in Strasbourg is 14%, far below Copenhagen’s 45% but much higher than the French average of 2-4%.” By the end of 1982, the bike lanes in Strasbourg were just over 30 kilometers long, but now they have increased to 650 kilometers. The expansion of public transportation played a big role here. In Strasbourg, if you want to build a new transportation infrastructure, whether it is a bus or a tram, you must create a bicycle-only road together.

The efficient transportation policy eventually took into account the aspect of national land improvement. In particular, there is a need for a transportation policy that can cope with the sprawl phenomenon that most cities in France experience in common (Sprawl Penomena, a phenomenon in which urban areas expand disorderly to suburban areas-editors). Deputy Mayor Alain Jund insists that we should try harder ourselves. In the past, the city of Strasbourg turned its back on the Rhine River, where the industrial park is located. Now, the city government is trying to fix the banks of the Rhine River without letting the city of Strasbourg expand into rural areas so that the city’s boundaries can be established toward the Rhine River.”

Air pollution is not just a matter of mobility. In many parts of France, wooden boilers and fireplaces older than road traffic are the main culprits of fine dust emissions.