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Ays Sirakaya

Ays Sirakaya

Editor at Politheor: European Policy Network
Ays is currently working towards her PhD at Ghent University, Faculty of Law, Department of European Public and International Law. Her PhD topic concerns the legal protection of urban biodiversity. Ays also works as a consultant on biosafety regulations and WTO at the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations.
Ays Sirakaya

By committing itself to making trees and green infrastructure a part of its scenery, Paris can bring colours back to a grey city.

toureiffeldepuisestparisien1The month of Christmas started off rather harsh for the Parisians as the smog levels went up to an alarming rate. In order to reduce the level of pollutants in the air, the city banned half the cars from the traffic by introducing an even/odd license plate system; the plates with odd numbers can go on the traffic one day and the even numbers the other. Furthermore, the public transportation as well as the Paris bicycle share and electric car share services have been made available to the Parisians free of charge. These solutions seem promising and innovative, but are they enough?

The smog is here to stay

In fact, the license plate lottery has also found its place in the city policy last year and in 2014, due to the rising levels of pollutants. Yet, this year, the smog levels are the worst in 10 years. The level of particulate matter exceeded 80 micrograms per cubic meter, which is 30 micrograms higher than the maximum daily level that is set by the European Union Air Quality Directive. The scientific literature emphasises that the particulate matter has been linked to numerous health problems including damages to respiratory and cardiovascular systems and even premature death. Therefore, it is no surprise that there has been 30% increase only in December 2016, regarding the number children being admitted to hospitals due to respiratory problems. On a global scale, fine particulate matter in the air is estimated to cause 6.2 million premature mortalities by 2050.  According to Respire, the National Association for Prevention and Improvement of Air Quality, the levels in Paris are unlikely to fall as long as the weather conditions stay the same. Clearly there needs to be additional measures taken; measures that are not only seasonal but can sustain themselves over a long period of time.

Trees and Green Infrastructure Help

A recent comprehensive report that was published in August 2016 by the Climate Leadership Group (C40) and the Nature Conservancy, specifically focus on the matter of improving the air quality of the cities by reducing the particulate matter. The report states that, on top of providing a myriad of benefits such as aesthetic beauty, storm water management, climate mitigation, erosion prevention and so on, trees have also been found to improve air quality to a great extent. The report demonstrates specific results on Paris as well. It states that Paris can benefit from planting trees, especially within the areas of higher population density such as the city centre.  The report goes as far to say that by investing $ 10 million into planting and maintaining trees, 2.3 million Parisians can have significant reduction of particulate matter.

Last summer, the city of Paris initiated a pilot project, City Trees, which basically aims to provide the same air quality benefits 275 trees would provide. Instead of planting trees, the project installs high-tech vertical moss cultures that clean the air. As sexy as the technology sounds, it is not cheap and it does not provide all the other benefits the good old trees and green spaces offer.

Need for Commitment and Leadership

Paris, however, is not ignoring the need to green the city. Last fall, the city passed a new law which would allow its residents to create urban gardens, green walls and rooftops, aiming to create 100 hectares of public green space by 2020. This is a voluntary incentive that enables green to be more present in Parisian landscape. Yet, the city should acknowledge that powerful local leadership is required more than ever in order to defeat grey by planting trees and adapting green infrastructure into its scenery.

For the sake of ensuring the good health of the citizens of an ever-growing vibrant city, Paris needs to do more than just reducing smog by means of transportation policies. With the help of mandatory tree planting schemes, green infrastructure policies and legally binding goals, Paris can effectively demonstrate that it is willing to welcome more and more green residents into its glorious scene. Don’t let grey become the new Paris.

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Ays Sirakaya
Ays is currently working towards her PhD at Ghent University, Faculty of Law, Department of European Public and International Law. Her PhD topic concerns the legal protection of urban biodiversity. Ays also works as a consultant on biosafety regulations and WTO at the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations.

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