The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe
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Sofia Initiative on Local Air Quality

Implementation period:

Participating countries:
Bulgaria (chair), Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia

Sofia Initiative on Local Air Quality

Studies completed during the project aimed to assist authorities in identifying sources and concentrations of pollution in urban areas and high-risk zones, and in making decisions about the necessity for continuous monitoring and special measures in order to fulfil EU air quality requirements.

The Sofia Initiative on Local Air Quality (SILAQ) focused primarily on the promotion of unleaded gasoline throughout the CEE region, as well as on significantly reducing sulphur and particulate emissions in highly polluted urban areas. The initiative relied on the sharing of experiences between countries in the region, in cooperation with Western partners.

Participation in the initiative was open ended: both CEE and Western participants were welcome to join all or some of the activities in accordance with their interests, and at any point in time. Reporting commitments were voluntary, but participants were expected to carry through their commitments once they were made. In line with the decisions of the Sofia conference to encourage a gradual shift of activities to CEE countries, core meetings related to the initiative took place in CEE countries.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) approved financial assistance of USD 150,000 to the REC to support project secretariat services. A meeting of the SILAQ Working Group took place in 1999 in Szentendre, Hungary, attended by members representing Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Western governments and international institutions were represented by Denmark, Germany, the US EPA and the World Bank.

The Sofia Initiative on Local Air Quality promoted cooperation between air pollution control experts at national and municipal levels. The initiative relied on East–East experience sharing, in cooperation with Western partners, and the objectives were to:

  • exchange information on local air pollution control strategies and their implementation;
  • harmonise policies, standards and regulations among the participating countries (with regard to international practices and approximation to the EU); and
  • develop and implement national or municipal strategies for the least-cost reduction of airborne lead, particulates and sulphur, as well as strategies for public information and participation.

The main SILAQ activities were planned around two major focus areas: local air quality management; and the phase-out of leaded gasoline.

Local air quality management

  • A regional workshop on the use of economic incentives to reduce emissions and improve ambient air quality at national and local level was held in October 1999 in Warsaw.
  • A synthesis status report on air quality management in SILAQ countries was published and distributed in 2000.
  • A regional workshop and training programme were held in Sofia in April 2000.
  • Measurements of particulate matter pollution were conducted by local environment ministry experts in three highly polluted regions of Bulgaria and two cities in Romania. The results of the studies were presented in country reports.
  • A regional workshop on the assessment of particulate matter pollution and health impacts in countries from the region was organised in Sofia in December 2001.
  • A regional workshop on the assessment of particulate matter pollution in Croatia and the use of upgraded sampling equipment for carbon monoxide and oxides sampling was held in Zagreb in 2002.

Phasing out of leaded gasoline
A regional workshop took place on the development and implementation of national programmes to phase out lead in gasoline in Bucharest in October 2000, with participants from Bulgaria, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Experiences and problems with the use of unleaded gasoline were analysed, and measures were agreed for future work. Countries involved in SILAQ followed different strategies and approaches to achieve a total ban on leaded gasoline.

A workshop focusing on problems in SEE countries — airborne lead pollution, health impacts, technical aspects of the production and use of unleaded gasoline — was held in Sofia in June 2001. In several of the participating countries priority environmental measures had yet to be developed to address fuel quality control and the phasing out of leaded gasoline.

As a result of SILAQ, the countries of SEE were provided with valuable assistance in prioritising air quality and developing policies and strategies to reduce pollutants that threatened both the environment and quality of life. The transfer of best practices and lessons learned supported this process.

The use of economic incentives for the reduction of emissions and the improvement of ambient air quality at local and national levels remains a high priority in CEE countries. Capacity building and training initiatives have made a significant contribution, not only in providing the authorities with the necessary skills and expertise to implement policies, but also in assisting the public to accept responsibility for their own environment and enabling them to make informed choices.

Technological improvements in refineries in relation to the production and consumption of lead-free petrol were decisive steps forward in improving the quality and environmental adequacy of motor fuels in line with the requirements of Directive 98/70/EC on the quality of petrol and diesel fuels.

The SILAQ cooperation model and the established network of experts and institutions within the initiative proved a good example of a joint effort to improve fuel quality. The harmonisation of national legislation with that of the EU was brought to near completion through the process, making it easier to tackle future challenges through practical implementation and the introduction or improvement of legal acts and regulations.

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