A working group chaired by Stéphane Illouz, partner in Reed Smith’s real estate and environment department in Paris, in partnership with French think tank La Fabrique Ecologique, has published a report on the subject of air pollution in urban areas, detailing a number of innovative measures to combat this increasingly alarming issue.

In 2014, the French population was regularly exposed to particularly high levels of air pollution. The report, drawing upon many case studies, has identified the composition and sources of this pollution, as well as its impact on our health and economic development. This pollution would appear to be the direct cause of at least 16,500 deaths every year in France alone, and the OECD has estimated its economic impact to be €48 billion, or 2.3% of the country’s GDP.

Although national and European regulations are abundant, the practical realities of these, and limited state intervention, means they are insufficient to tackle the problem. The lack of an enforceable legislative framework has meant that initiatives taken in some cities (such as tramways and regulated urban transport plans) have not been replicated throughout the country.

The working group examined at length different measures taken in various countries around the world (including car-pooling, traffic restrictions and congestion charges) in order to identify which would be most suitable for implementation in France. These innovative solutions are centred on traffic pollution (a symbol of modern society) and have three broad aims:

  • Developing more integrated ways to inform people about air pollution: This can be achieved by making use of every media platform and information source available, such as weather forecasts, car GPS systems and even prevention courses to be taught in companies or schools. Furthermore, this information should be visible on any public message boards (such as bus stops, bike racks, car parks). This readily available information is key to raising awareness of the issue and ultimately changing behaviour.
  • Reducing road traffic pollution: Rather than reducing pollution peaks by organising alternate traffic circulation measures, it would be advisable to restrict road usage to vehicles that have been identified as less polluting by French legislation. Furthermore, these measures must be accompanied by effective transport initiatives led by companies (such as car-pooling, bike-to-work schemes and the use of public transport) – initiatives that should become compulsory with the enactment of new legislation.
  • Protecting vulnerable populations: This measure would concern the construction of any new public building hosting any identified vulnerable groups (such as hospitals or schools). Such a building would need to be situated at least 200 metres away from any source of air pollution. More generally, the report recommends a greater consideration for air quality and health when new public buildings are built.

These measures follow on from initiatives begun in July 2014, with hearings involving public and private specialists (such as RATP, local governments, TDF, JC Decaux, and Aerophile), as well as a public presentation on 30 June 2015, hosted by Senator Leila Aïchi and Professor Thomas Similowski, respirologist and president of the scientific commission of French foundation la Fondation du Souffle.

The aforementioned initiatives are intended to be put in place as soon as possible, given the increasing impact that air pollution has on our lives.