The Bay of Funchal

Funchal boasts cleanest air outside of Scandinavia

Funchal boasts cleanest air outside of Scandinavia

It is only one of two non-Northern cities to find a place among the top 10

The municipal website of Funchal was quick to boast the good standing of the Madeiran capital in terms of air quality after the results of the new European Environment Agency’s (EEA) urban air quality visualization system were made available. Indeed, it is something of a geographical outlier since is third place puts it in the company of mostly Scandinavian and Baltic cities at the top of this prestigious ranking.

The only other non-Northern city in the top 10 is Salamanca (Spain), which is placed 8. As for the two cleanest air cities in the EU, these are Umeå (Sweden) and Tampere (Finland).

This ranking is informative and not competitive

Unlike other rankings, however, this one can always be consulted online, and it aims to provide visual information to citizens and authorities about the air quality in their locality of the European Union. Hopefully, it will spur action among concerned actors and bring about collective action directed at improving the situation.

The ranking is made according to detected fine particulate matter in each city, with four different categories being defined. Those with green dots have an annual mean concentration of particles between 0 and 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air. Orange dots indicate 10-15 µg/m3 (moderate), red dots 15-25 µg/m3 (poor) and brown dots 25-35 µg/m3 (very poor).

Still, there is also a fifth colour – dark grey, which indicates that no reliable data had been collected for that city and a look at Europe’s map shows that there are still many such places in every corner of the EU. Nevertheless, a brief look also indicates that regions such as Italy, Central and Eastern Europe need to catch up with the rest of the continent in terms of air quality.

The EEA has explained that the restrictions of the pandemic contributed to a sharp reduction in pollution, but the presence of fine particles in the atmosphere remained high. 

The head of the Air Pollution Department at the EEA Catherine Ganzleben said that "fine particles" are "one of the most important pollutants" in the atmosphere and pointed to them as being "the cause of more than 400,000 premature deaths per year in Europe".

They are associated with serious illnesses, including heart and lung problems, two of the biggest killers in Europe. If you live in a city with polluted air, you are harming your health and that of your children”, she warned.

In this regard, a new package of European funding is foreseen, with around 1.8 billion euros to be spent for an opportunity to adapt the European Union to a cleaner, greener and healthier future for all citizens.

How did Funchal get it right?

Funchal is fortunate, in a way, to be located on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and at a distance from the mainlands of Europe and Africa. Nevertheless, the authorities had put sustainability and environmental protection at the heart of their concerns, doing much work to prevent and quickly respond to forest fires, for example.

According to biologist Jorge Paiva, the Madeiran capital also comes closest to the ideal green space for an urban environment. The territory of the city features national parks, which are meant to protect the unique laurisilva flora on the island. It is this integration between an urban and natural landscape that is the key to creating a sustainable and truly livable environment that as a result will also produce a clean atmosphere.

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