City of Smog: cleaning up Paris

December 2016 saw Paris become the world’s most aerially polluted city December 2016 saw Paris become the world’s most aerially polluted city Ioan Panait
28 Jan
As Paris continues to combat its severe air pollution problem, the compulsory displaying of car pollution certificates may be just the ticket

When Parisian mayor Anne Hidalgo took office in 2014, she did so with a promise to tackle the city’s air pollution blight. To help achieve this, she has proven herself keen to experiment with various urban transport schemes to reduce traffic emissions. These include introducing the Autolib electric car hire fleets, and pedestrianising the famous Champs-Élysées on the first Sunday of every month. Even so, in December 2016 Paris briefly became the world’s most aerially polluted city as airborne pollutants – particularly nitrogen oxides, fine particulate matter, unburned hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide – built up across the city. These were especially concentrated in hotspots such as Victor Basch Square, or near Boulevard Périphérique – the city’s ring road. Emergency measures had to be taken to curb the damage, such as banning cars with odd or even number plates on alternate days, and making all public transport free to use.

The difficulty is we not only need to control particles, we also need to be able to control some of the gaseous emissions. The one that’s really challenging at the moment is nitrogen dioxide

Crit’Air, a new nationwide scheme, should aide Hidalgo in her quest to rid Paris of these pollutants. Adopting a system similar to the ‘traffic light’ labels that indicate the efficiency of our household appliances or the nutritional value of our food, it enforces the mandatory displaying of pollution certificates by almost all road vehicles travelling through France’s relatively new ‘low emission zones’ during normal weekday working hours. There are six different types of certificate available for low emitters, while older, more heavily polluting vehicles won’t qualify for a certificate at all. No label means no entry to the restricted parts of the city.

Gary Fuller, an air pollution scientist at King’s College London, points out that the French scheme is similar to one which has worked fairly effectively in Germany, at least in terms of curbing particle pollutants. ‘The difficulty is we not only need to control particles, we also need to be able to control some of the gaseous emissions,’ he explains. ‘The one that’s really challenging at the moment is nitrogen dioxide.’ To combat this, Paris is currently one of four cities – along with Athens, Madrid, and Mexico City – that recently declared it would become diesel-free by 2025, a move that would go a long way towards eliminating both harmful particles and gases from the city’s atmosphere.

This was published in the February 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Leave a comment

ONLY registered members can leave comments and each comment is held pending authorisation before publishing. Please login or register to voice your opinion.

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today


Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester




Travel the Unknown


Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...


NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...


HSBC has requested a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil investigation…


Benjamin Hennig explores visions of a world made bright by humanity


The EU has asked the European court to authorise an…


Was last year’s El Niño a practice run for future…


Far from being separate threats, scientists have found links between…


Is the official height of Mount Everest accurate?


Where in the world is the highest density of languages?…


The next stage in autonomous vehicles is hoping to transform…


Geographical’s resident data cartographer presents a true picture of the…


What impact could an unprecedented incident of ‘river piracy’ have…


Norway is to undercut a mountainous peninsula to create the…


Benjmain Hennig explores global mortality with maps


Last winter’s cold conditions contributed a further influx of road…


As one of America’s biggest cities, supplying clean drinking water…


Cape Town’s Foreshore Freeway Bridge has been left unfinished for…


An interactive map highlights the shocking number of ongoing conflicts…


Repurposed NASA maps show the racial diversity (and segregation) of…


Benjamin Hennig maps Europe's public train networks


A new map of global landslide susceptibility reveals vast geographical…


For decades, scientists have been divided over how these eerily…