Thomson Reuters Foundation)
Air pollution is “a social issue because it affects the most vulnerable people”, says Ada Colau
By Megan Rowling
BARCELONA, March 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation)
– Cities must be given access to the resources they need to tackle climate change and air pollution because urban centres are not only the main source of the problem but also the best-placed to find solutions, Barcelona’s first woman mayor says.
Ada Colau, a social activist who found her way into politics by championing the rights of people who lost their homes to Spain’s economic turmoil, said the world’s large cities face the same challenges.
“They have the biggest concentration of population, as well as economic and democratic opportunities, but we are also the biggest producers of pollution. And, concretely, the biggest factor driving pollution in cities is transport, particularly the private car,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview at Barcelona City Hall.
“We have a challenge that we cannot delay – reducing the use of private cars in our cities.”
In Barcelona, cars are used for only around a quarter of journeys but they take up 60 percent of public space and are responsible for around 80 percent of pollution, Colau noted.
“It is clearly a situation of injustice,” she said.
In the city’s metropolitan area, home to some 5 million people, 3,500 premature deaths per year are thought to be directly associated with pollution, which also worsens allergies and causes respiratory problems, said Colau, who was elected mayor in May 2015.
Air pollution is “a social issue because it affects the most vulnerable people – children, those who are ill – so it is a problem of the city, not just an issue that abstractly affects the sustainability of the planet”, she said.
Despite its international reputation as a city with low carbon emissions per capita, thanks to its compact design, Barcelona has repeatedly failed to meet air quality standards set by the European Union and is pursuing efforts to curb pollution.
This month, it announced targets to cut traffic-related emissions by at least 10 percent in the next five years, aimed at bringing down pollution to meet EU limits by December 2020. It intends to decrease emissions by 30 percent within 15 years.
It will start by restricting the circulation of older, dirtier vehicles on days when pollution tops a certain level.
Meanwhile, the city is trying to speed up progress on a five-year plan to cut the use of motor vehicles by about a fifth by expanding cycle paths, bus and tram networks.
It is also testing a new system of “superblocks” – designated areas of up to nine traditional blocks where traffic is restricted, freeing space for pedestrians and public use.