Paris and most parts of France are currently grappling with high levels of air pollution that has shown no signs of abating. On Sunday, the government was forced to announce the introduction of a plan to curb car usage starting on Monday.
Over the past five days, the sky over Paris has revealed worrying levels of pollution particulates. On Friday, the concentration of 180 micrograms per cubic meter of Particulate Matter (PM), more than double the allowed amount of 80, that have resulted in the city reaching pollution levels normally hit by metropolis like Beijing or Delhi.
During the same days, other major cities in Europe such as Berlin and London were showing levels of PM of 81 and 79.7 respectively. On Saturday, the authorities in Paris have responded to the emergency by making the public transportation free in an attempt to encourage citizens to leave their cars parked at home.
However, the measures did not help to reduce the dangerous air pollution levels and prompted stricter government restrictions that were not seen in the country since 1997 and that unleashed harsh criticism. The European Environment Agency said that the current levels of smog in the French capital are the worst since 2007.
France has a high number of private vehicles and drivers can benefit of diesel subsidies which contribute to increase the number of cars on the streets. According to the official explanation, the current haze of smog hanging over Paris is the result of unusually warm days and cold nights that have impeded the smog to dissolve, said RT.
Starting on Monday, car and motorbike drivers in Paris will be forced to use their vehicles on alternate days, according to even or odd numbers shown on their plates. The decision aims at curbing private car usage and persuading citizens to use bikes or to take advantage of existing electric car-sharing programs to tackle the air pollution problem.
Meanwhile the decision of the government of Francois Hollande has been fiercely criticized by opposition leaders and car associations that accused the Socialist Party of being under pressure from its coalition members of the Green Party that are worried about the upcoming elections to be held at the end of March.
Environment Minister Philippe Martin spoke at a news conference on Sunday, saying that the traffic restriction have the objective of ensuring public safety and were necessary since, if uncontrolled, the pollution levels are likely to soar further on Monday.
The president of a drivers’ lobby, Pierre Chasseray, was quoted by Reuters as calling the decision “impossible to enforce, stupid and an attempt to win votes,” while UMP politician and mayor of the Parisian suburb of Meaux said that the decision lacks coherence and was rushed following pressures from the ecologists.
Despite discording political views surrounding the issue of pollution in Paris, a representative of the European Environment Agency told RT that air pollution of this kind poses an immediate health threat for young people and the elderly, which suggests that politicians were forced to expedite restrictions to curb car usage independently of political motives.
By Stefano Salustri