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A look into the future of air quality in Navarre


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Newspaper News

Jesús Miguel Santamaría

Director of the University of Navarra Biodiversity and Environment Institute

Air pollution is a global threat for human health and ecosystems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2020 more than 4.2 million people lost their lives prematurely worldwide due to poor air quality. In Spain, 25,000 premature deaths were recorded, of which 10,000 were related to air pollution episodes. These alarming figures are mainly due to fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), responsible for the premature death of 17,000 people, as well as exhibition to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3), which caused the premature loss of 4,800 and 2,400 lives respectively.

Although Navarra has managed to stay within the pollution limits stipulated by European legislation, it still faces the challenge of aligning itself with the stricter WHO guidelines for optimal health protection. According to these parameters, in 2022 the entire population of Navarra and about two thirds of its territory were exposed to pollution levels harmful to both human health and the environment.

The Autonomous Community of Navarra is striving to achieve the objectives of the "Zero Pollution" plan of the European Green Pact, seeking to reduce the concentration of pollutants to safe levels by 2050. To this end, several initiatives have been implemented in Navarra, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the reduction of tropospheric ozone pollution, the promotion of clean energies and the promotion of sustainable transport.

To improve air quality in Navarra in the short term it is vital to overcome several challenges core topic. One of the main ones is to extend the air quality monitoring network to cover currently unmonitored areas, including the northern part of Navarra, Tierra Estella and the Navarra Pyrenees. In addition, the impact of ozone on natural vegetation and commercial crops in the Ribera de Navarra, where high ozone concentrations persist, must be assessed to protect ecosystems and reduce the economic impact on the agricultural sector.

Reducing road traffic is another goal core topic , promoting the renewal of the vehicle fleet and discouraging the circulation of diesel vehicles purchased between 2009 and 2018, known for diesel fraud, as well as gasoline SUVs purchased from 2019 onwards, which emit high levels of volatile organic compounds. It is also proposed to improve the Low Emission Zone created in the Old Town of Pamplona, implementing more stringent restrictions for vehicles without label ecological and delivery vans, which are highly polluting (old diesel vehicles). In addition, it iscrucial tocontrol the burning of biomass for heating and promote the use of certified stoves and pellets to reduce the increase of pollutants detected in recent years by this activity.

At Biodiversity and Environment Institute (BIOMA) we are committed to advancing the understanding and improvement of air quality in Navarra. Our approach includes the monitoring of pollutants in the Pyrenees, which will provide us with essential data to assess pollution levels in this area core topic. In addition, we will conduct epidemiological programs of study to investigate the relationship between pollution and public health, providing valuable information on the long-term impacts of air quality on the population.

A fundamental element of our methodology is the implementation of a state-of-the-art air quality sensor network at Campus of the University of Navarra. This innovative network will not only provide up-to-date information on air quality in an urban context, but will also become a reference for future environmental monitoring initiatives in other regions.

We also want to be at the forefront in development of predictive models based on artificial intelligence, designed to identify in advance episodes of high atmospheric pollution. This will allow us to react in a more agile and effective way to these environmental emergency situations. With these measures, BIOMA aims to position itself as an actor core topic in the fight against air pollution and in the protection of the health and welfare of the citizens of Navarra.

All of these actions combined represent a holistic effort to address air quality challenges in the region, protecting the health of its inhabitants and preserving the region's natural environment. To achieve a significant impact, the partnership between different sectors and the effective implementation of specific policies and strategies is crucial . In this framework, it is necessary to recognize that the fight against air pollution, a collective responsibility, requires a strong and coordinated commitment not only at the local level in Navarra, but also on a global scale.