From the NILU annual report 2019: With its “European Green Deal”, the new European Commission has initiated hectic activity to translate political visions into a climate-neutral Europe that ensures good lives for its citizens. This means that pan-European environmental and climate cooperation will play an increasingly important role.
“NILU – Norwegian Institute for Air Research is an important contributor to the European Environment Agency’s work, not least through its participation in two “European Topic Centres”. In this way, the institute also becomes an important part of both national and international efforts to combat climate change and pollution”, says EU coordinator and research director Alena Bartonova from NILU.
Bartonova heads the topic centre on Air Pollution, Transport, Noise and Industrial Pollution (ETC/ATNI) on NILU’s behalf. In addition to leading the work of ETC/ATNI, NILU scientists also contribute to the topic centre on Climate Change Mitigation and Energy (ETC/CME).
Joint environmental efforts increasingly important
The efforts for a greener Europe come as no surprise to Norway, which according to Bartonova can be called the “motherland” of sustainability.
At the same time, Norway still needs a push in the right direction when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and the green shift.
“The European environmental policy we are seeing now is broadly based”, says Cristina Guerreiro, research director for NILU’s Department of Environmental Impacts and Sustainability. “It is linked to global sustainability ambitions expressed in the UN’s Sustainability Goals, and it is to be implemented at a pace that reflects the urgency of the climate and environmental crisis. This makes environmental cooperation across sectors and national borders more important than ever.”
Both Norwegian and European legislation make many demands aimed at reducing emissions of pollutants to the environment, and set legal limits on the concentrations of various substances in air. Reliable information and data are essential to follow up on the implementation of environmental policy and measures, as well as to monitor developments in environmental conditions and impacts. Good data enable us to tailor measures that ensure the least possible adverse effects on climate, the environment and health.
“Evidence-based and evidence-oriented politics, firmly grounded on research and knowledge, must play a central role”, Bartonova continues. “The topic centres have two primary tasks when it comes to this: The first is to support data collection and assure the quality of those data. The second is to use the data in integrated assessments of environmental status and trends, and to assess the impacts, trade-offs and synergies of environmental policy and measures implemented.”
The topic centres as knowledge disseminators
The topic centres are intended to serve as bridges between the countries’ environmental data and the European Environment Agency’s environmental information systems. Another important task is to disseminate the environmental knowledge they acquire through joint research, development and innovation work in the networks linked to the topic centres. In this way, the topic centres ensure both the continuity of long time series of monitoring data, and that the observations are used in connection with new tasks that emerge as policy develops further.
A practical example of how the work done at the topic centres has already contributed is the European Environment Agency’s annual report “Air quality in Europe”, which is in part based on data and analyses from ETC/ATNI. Cristina Guerreiro has been the lead author of this report, which provides an annual updated overview and analysis of air quality in Europe – and celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2020. The report also summarises the progress made in reducing the negative effects of air pollution on health and ecosystems in Europe.
“Other new topics we are working on in ETC/ATNI include the use of microsensors and earth observation data for measuring air quality and emissions and urban sustainability. In addition, we monitor developments in industrial emissions, their effects and societal costs”, explains Bartonova.
“In ETC/CME, we are working on projections of greenhouse gas emissions, life cycle analyses of energy systems in Europe, as well as life cycle effects of the use of chemicals in the circular economy”, Guerreiro concludes.