Protecting air quality should become a priority for Europe in the years to come in order to ensure a better and healthier life for citizens.
Air pollution, both indoors and outdoors, is a major environmental risk to human health. The world health organisation (WHO) estimates that each year, urban outdoor air contamination kills around 1.3 million people worldwide. Long-term and peak exposure can have various effects on people's health, ranging from a slight impact on the respiratory system to premature death.
This is why the commission has proposed a regulation to bring requirements for light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles closer together, by focusing on reducing pollutant emissions while making sure that the level of environmental protection is not lowered.
The road transport sector contributes significantly to the emission of pollutants, mainly due to a large amount of diesel engines. Diesel-powered equipment and engines play a fundamental role in mobile vehicles and machinery use, and are also very popular due to their durability, reliability and efficiency. They are also economically productive.
However, the emissions that come from such engines, especially the particulate matter and nitrogen oxides (NOx), cause serious health problems among adults and have particularly disastrous effects on children.
The latest research shows that exhausts are carcinogenic to humans. Therefore, it is indispensable to have a balanced view on the ongoing debate on air quality especially in large cities, as well as on the effect it may have on public health which nowadays is a huge problem.
On the other hand, as the transport sector's business needs and demand grow, it is crucial that we find a way of tackling this emerging challenge.
Important measures need to be maintained to improve air quality in Europe, as well the transport sector's environmental performance. There also needs to be further technological research related to vehicles, fuel quality and composition - low sulphur diesel fuels. Additionally, traffic management needs improvement.
Manufacturers should also consider introducing more advanced catalytic filters and converters, as well as exhaust particle traps for diesel. Then, some more advanced testing procedures should be implemented.
The member states and commission agree that emissions should be measured by portable emissions monitoring systems (PEMS), in order to check the real drive emission amount.
Until now, the only tests performed were indoors on a chassis dynamometer - a tool to measure power delivered to the surface of the 'drive roller' by the drive wheels - which did not give a true indication of the actual pollution happening on the road. This is why technological developments in manufacturing that could largely reduce or even eliminate harmful effects on public health are the only options Europe should consider.
Modern industry already significantly contributes to the requirements imposed by the commission and different environmental organisations to further reduce emissions. Consequently, I believe alternative fuels, such as natural gas, should be promoted more, as they are much cleaner than diesel and gasoline.
Of course, it's important to remember that lower emissions from vehicles also depend on the behaviour of drivers. It would be easy to provide technical support for so-called eco-driving, through the installation of fuel consumption meters and gear shift indicators. These would, to some extent, force people to drive more efficiently and ecologically.
A complementary solution would be to inform and educate people on how to drive in a way that saves fuel and emits fewer toxic substances.
In the next few years, demand for transport is expected to triple. Therefore, we must act collectively in order to face demand and maintain environmental sustainability, which is of crucial importance.
Collective action would also help accelerate the introduction of cleaner and more efficient vehicle technology. This is very important for Europe's future.