WHO backs Barcelona's ban on polluting vehicles

International body's air pollution coordinator stresses importance of local authorities in tackling effects of traffic on urban health

Vehicle traffic on one of Barcelona's busiest roads
Vehicle traffic on one of Barcelona's busiest roads / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

May 8, 2019 05:57 PM

 A World Health Organization (WHO) official has approved Barcelona's decision to ban the most-polluting vehicles from the city and its surroundings.

Nathalie Roebber, the WHO's air pollution and urban health coordinator, told Catalan News that the role of local authorities is "very important" when it comes to tackling air pollution.

Pointing out that traffic is a "key contributor" to air pollution, Roebber argued that each municipality needs to adopt measures that best fit its particular situation.

The expert also approved of plans under consideration by the authorities to introduce a congestion charge for vehicles entering Barcelona's city center.

"The message is that if you address air pollution, you address health," said Roebber, who pointed to the strategies of Nordic countries in promoting the use of bicycles and walking.

"You reduce car use and therefore pollution and, with the increase in physical activity, you reduce obesity and the prevalence of other non-communicable diseases," she added.

Roebber was taking part in an event in Brussels organized by the Naturgy Foundation, a non-profit institution aimed at promoting the efficient use of energy.

Barcelona mayor welcomes WHO's backing

Barcelona mayor, Ada Colau, welcomed Roebber's words, pointing out that her government had followed the advice of the WHO and UN in taking action against air pollution.

Colau stressed the importance of "removing cars" from the city, which she said was not a restriction but an opportunity to improve health and allow Barcelona to lead a "green revolution."

The main source of air pollution in Barcelona comes from vehicles, says the city's public health agency, which in 2017 reported that air pollution levels in the city supersede the acceptable thresholds established by the WHO.