Air Policy Lab
Air Quality Lab of NBU – network of social learning related to air quality and environmental protection
Supported by European Climate Foundation
The project addresses socio- economic, technical and research imperatives connected with air quality management in a quarter of Sofia, Bulgaria by building capabilities for data reading and analysis for further citizen engagement at a city level.
The project has two main objectives:
- Air quality monitoring – working with students, organizing air quality trainings, collecting date
- To raise public awareness and pro-active attitude in the sphere of air quality in the cities based on specific knowledge and targeted partnerships - design and publish an e –newsletter, organizing public events, spread air quality information through dirrefent channels and etc.
Context problem description
Sofia is one of Europe's most polluted capitals with high concentration levels of fine particulate matter (PM 10 and PM2.5, CO2, SO2, CO, 03, NOx, benzo(a)pyrene and toxic metals). The fact that the city is located in a valley with little wind leaves the polluted air lingering over for prolonged periods of time. According to the WHO, approximately 9,000 people are dying each year in Bulgaria from diseases linked to the low air quahty, and the European Commission estimates that the country's economy loses nearly three billion Euro annually due to indirect health resulting from air pollution. The old road transport fleet elevates the risk of exceeding nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions. Bulgariahas has not yet implemented any substantial structural measures to address air pollution and to align the air quality objectives with key specific sectoral policies (e.g. climate, energy, transport).
Air pollutants in Sofia are linked mostly to human activity. On the one hand, there is city traffrc: the cilty is inhabited by over 1,3000,000 people with 550-600 cars per 1,000 inhabitants. Acconding to Eurostat, Bulgarians drive the oldest cars in EU: in 2017, for example, almost half of the vehicles were at least 20 years old (mainly second-hand cars imported from Western Europe). A second cause ofpollution is related to the heating systems ofhouses and apartments. According to data from the National Program for the Improvement of Air Quality, over 10% of Sofiapopulation use wood for heating in winter
At the end of 2017, the municipality created an "Airo Climate and Energy" directorate, which however has yet to record concrete initiatives. Also in 2017, the city council approved a new program to improve air quality. The only concrete intervention, at the beginning of 2018, was the introduction of the so-called llmfeen ticketll for urban transport in case of pollution above the norrn - a special daily pass, at the price of a lev (50 Euro cents) to encourage citizens to use public transport, so far issued on very few occasions. Critics, however, point out that the measure should not be limited to critical moments and that the high price of tickets (usually 1.60 lev for a single trip) is one of the factors that limit the use of public transport and contribute to the city traffic jams. Despite these developments, there aren't many networks or regular large scale information and awareness-raising efforts for air quality monitoring and citizen engagement in Sofia and the countqy. Random some protest against particular air pollution in different areas take place, the efforts of AirBg.info network also should be mentioned, but these actions are basically still patchy and poorly informed. The AQ Lab will make an attempt to start with a permanent flow of air quality information for a specific area adding some basic knowledge and broadening public sensitivity concerning the air quality in Sofia. Conso.lidating academic research and providing verifiable air quality data analysis will encourage awareness building, aimed at generating strong civic support and activism. It will have a waking-up effect not only for Bulgarian society, which has so far stayed in the margins of climate change movements, but also for the local and govemment authorities responsible for these issues.