Mayor Fandakova signing an agreement with the Clean Air Fund , Source: Angelina Angelova / City of Sofia

Sofia, one of the most polluted cities in the EU, ready to create low emissions zones

Sofia, one of the most polluted cities in the EU, ready to create low emissions zones

According to 2021 research by the Clean Air Fund, air pollution costs the city more than 13% of local GDP

Yesterday, authorities in Sofia announced a landmark policy of instituting low emissions zones in the city’s centre and surrounding neighbourhoods. The policy was crafted with the help of research from the Clean Air Fund, stating air pollution costs the city around 13.4% of local GDP. The Bulgarian capital has been struggling with air pollution for years, as one of the most polluted capitals of the EU.

The city sees excess levels of fine dust particles and smog with dangerous levels of nitrous oxide, especially during the winter. At the same time, the city lost a major court case against a citizen group with the court decision mandating the municipality take action against pollution.

The low emissions zones could be unpopular, but they are necessary

Mayor Yordanka Fandakova has been trying to pass legislation on low emissions zones for some time now. The revamped policy was devised with the help of research from the Clean Air Fund, a London-based research group.

The Clean Air Fund conducted research between 2019 and 2021, marking the days with higher levels of pollution and tracking the data along several indicators, especially healthcare and productivity.

Now it will cover the so-called ‘Small Ring’ and ‘Big Ring’, an area with a radius of around 2.3 kilometres from the city centre comprising the core region of Sofia. The Small and Big Rings are surrounded by large ring boulevards to divert cross-town traffic.

The main point of the policy is to stop older car models, 20 to 30 years old, from going into these zones. This is because these cars are CO2-inefficient. The measure might prove quite unpopular though, as Bulgaria is the poorest EU member state and the private vehicle fleet is quite dated.

Nevertheless, Mayor Fandakova explained in a statement that the move was necessary and that the local administration expects to achieve serious results.

Air pollution equals economic damage

According to the 2019 to 2021 study by the Clean Air Fund, air pollution had a severe impact on productivity, absenteeism and employee retention of highly-skilled workers in Sofia. In 2019, researchers found that pollution cost around 13.4% of the local GDP due to pollution.

If left unchecked, researchers say the city stands to lose around 15.8 billion euros between 2019 and 2024.

The study states that during days when the air quality is out of the norm, medical help for pneumonia conditions rises by 60%. Infections of the upper respiratory tract rise by 47% on average and hospitalisations in general also rise.

Additionally, around 60% of highly skilled workers would consider moving abroad due to air pollution in Sofia, while 20% believe that it affects their productivity. Moreover, the study suggests that if the city manages a 4% yearly reduction in the days when pollution is above the norm, it could lead to savings of 3.75 billion euros.



Growing City


Smart City


Green City


Social City


New European Bauhaus




ECP 2021 Winner TheMayorEU