On Sunday, Paris held "une journée sans voiture" - a day without car - as authorities closed down approximately 25% of the city center to vehicle traffic and reduced speed limits to 20 kilometers per hour in the surrounding areas.
This day without cars was held as Paris prepares to host the United National Climate Change Conference (“COP21”), which will begin on November 30. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and COP 21 Conference Chair Laurent Fabius, the goal of this conference is to achieve “a global agreement to ensure that our planet remains a healthy environment for us to live in.”
While the primary focus of the COP21 conference is on mitigating the impacts of global climate change, increasing attention is being paid to immediate co-benefits for public health that come hand-in-hand with reducing carbon emissions. According to a report released this summer by the Lancet Commission, a shift to a low carbon electricity and transportation would have huge positive impact on cleaning up the air and improving public health.
Many energy technologies, including diesel and gasoline cars, coal power plants, and biomass (for example, wood and charcoal) for cooking produce a wide array of air pollutants. These types of pollution lead to cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and respiratory illness in addition to carbon dioxide. By shifting to clean energy technologies, we could dramatically reduce these negative health impacts and quickly save billions of dollars.
Like many other cities, Paris struggles with high levels of air pollution. In 2014, local pollution levels were so high that the government temporarily removed public transportation fees and partially banned cars from the roads. According to data released by Airparif, this response led to a drop in Paris road traffic of 18% and 6-30% drop in air pollution levels.
According to Mayor Ann Hidalgo*:
“...we need to switch to less stressful kinds of transport to make [cities] a calmer environment because otherwise cities become unbearable and I do not want Paris to become unbearable. I want us to be on the cutting edge of everything our cities are doing about pollution.”
*translated from French to English