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ENVIRONMENT

Vienna third among Europe’s ‘sootfree cities’

Vienna ranks third among 23 major European cities for its efforts to fight air pollution, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said on Tuesday.

Vienna third among Europe's 'sootfree cities'
Vienna has a good network of cycling lanes. Photo: APA/FOHRINGER

The ‘Sootfree Cities’ ranking gave Vienna an overall score of 84 percent, noting its high share of parks and green zones, well-developed public transport system, and promotion of cycling and walking as alternative ways of getting around.  

Since 2012 an annual travel card for Vienna’s public transport costs just €365 per year, far below the European average of €660. 

Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city, came top of the ranking for its commitment to cutting pollution from vehicles, for promoting cleaner forms of transport and for its low levels of pollution.

Copenhagen in Denmark was in second place, with Stockholm and Berlin behind Vienna in fourth and fifth place.

Luxembourg, with one of the highest percentages of car users in the European Union, got the worst evaluation, just ahead of Lisbon and Rome.

European cities were evaluated in nine transport-related categories including the promotion of sustainable transport, traffic management, and public procurement and economic incentives, such as congestion charges and parking.

“Although 90% of Europeans living in cities today are still breathing unhealthy air, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Vienna or Berlin have either met, or are due to meet, the EU limit values within the next two years. Zurich has already progressed well beyond the EU’s norms,” said Arne Fellermann, Transport Policy Officer at BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany.

The EEB called for greater effort to cut pollution in Europe’s biggest cities.

“The EU must be more ambitious if it wants to prevent repeats of last week’s deadly smog,” EEB spokeswoman Louise Duprez said, referring to the recent high pollution levels in Paris and other cities.

Air pollution causes nearly half a million premature deaths each year in the EU and the average life expectancy of residents in the most polluted cities is reduced by two years as a result, the EEB said.

The worst areas have high concentrations of particulate matter (largely produced by diesel cars), nitrogen dioxide and ozone, the bureau said.

For a look at the full rankings, check here.

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EUROPEAN UNION

EU court rejects Austria case against Hungary nuclear plant

The EU's second highest court on Wednesday rejected a complaint by Austria against a European Commission decision to approve the expansion of a nuclear plant in neighbouring Hungary with Russian aid.

EU court rejects Austria case against Hungary nuclear plant

Staunchly anti-nuclear Austria lodged the legal complaint in 2018 after the European Union’s executive arm allowed the expansion of the Paks nuclear plant outside the Hungarian capital Budapest with a 10-billion-euro ($12.4 billion) Russian loan.

The plant is Hungary’s only nuclear facility and supplies around 40 percent of its electricity needs.

In its decision the commission judged that the project met EU rules on state aid, but Austria disputed this.

The General Court of the EU ruled Wednesday that “member states are free to determine the composition of their own energy mix and that the Commission cannot require that state financing be allocated to alternative energy sources.”

READ ALSO: Why is Austria so anti nuclear power? 

Hungary aims to have two new reactors enter service by 2030, more than doubling the plant’s current capacity with the 12.5-billion-euro construction. The Paks plant was built with Soviet-era technology in the 1980s during Hungary’s communist period. 

The construction of two new reactors is part of a 2014 deal struck between Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Victor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The work is carried out by Moscow’s state-owned nuclear agency Rosatom.

The details of the deal have been classified for 30 years for “national security reasons” with critics alleging this could conceal corruption.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What are the chances of blackouts in Austria this winter?

Since the late 1970s, Austria has been fiercely anti-nuclear, starting with an unprecedented vote by its population that prevented the country’s only plant from providing a watt of power.

Last month, the Alpine EU member filed a complaint with the European Court of Justice over the bloc’s decision to label nuclear power as green.

In 2020, the top EU court threw out an appeal by Austria to find British government subsidies for the nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in breach of the bloc’s state aid rules.

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