Top 10 European cities where citizens are most satisfied with their air quality


Cities across Europe are breathing new life into their air quality efforts, with local governments at the helm of this positive change. These initiatives are part of a grand plan to create a toxin-free environment by 2050, a goal set by the EU’s revised Ambient Air Quality Directive, on which a preliminary agreement was reached last month. The path is challenging, but the collective action of European cities shows a united commitment to cleaner air and sustainable urban living. Local governance plays a crucial role in this journey, steering communities towards a future of healthier cities.

Air quality matters. It affects our health, well-being, and enjoyment of our cities. Poor air quality can lead to respiratory issues, cardiovascular problems, and even shorten our lives, not to mention its toll on the environment. That’s why improving air quality goes beyond meeting regulations; it’s about protecting public health and fostering cities where people can thrive.

Local authorities are at the forefront of this mission. They’re tackling traffic emissions through smarter urban planning, boosting public transport, cycling, and walking, and investing in green spaces that clean the air. They’re also pushing for renewable energy and stricter industrial emissions controls, all of which are big strides towards fresher air.

When we look at cities through the lens of how satisfied people feel about the air they breathe, as recorded in the Survey on the Quality of Life in European Cities conducted by the European Commission, it gives us a unique snapshot of progress and areas for improvement. It’s worth noting that these perceptions are subjective and might not capture the full picture of air quality. However, they highlight cities making an impression on their residents and inspire others to follow suit.

(Source: Survey on the Quality of Life in European Cities, Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, 2023)

Zürich tops the list with 88.02% of its citizens happy with their air quality. The city is on an eco-friendly mission, cutting emissions and promoting greener transport, aiming to drastically reduce its carbon footprint by 2040. Their vision of a 2000-Watt Society by 2050 underscores their commitment to sustainability.

Following closely, Helsinki impresses 87.54% of its populace with clean air, thanks to its Air Quality Plan aimed at cutting down traffic emissions, dust, and smoke from wood burning. Helsinki is actively improving air quality in busy areas and pushing for sustainable transport and clean streets.

In third place, Rostock has 87.19% of its citizens nodding approval, largely due to its green hydrogen project, HyTechHafen Rostock, showcasing the city’s innovative approach to clean energy and air quality.

(Heinätori Park in Oulu)

Oulu captures the fourth spot with 85.08% satisfaction, driven by diligent monitoring of traffic emissions, dust, and smoke. Their commitment is reflected in comprehensive city planning and climate goals, emphasizing Oulu’s dedication to a livable city.

Aalborg, with 84.86% of residents content with their air quality, stands fifth. The city’s climate plan aims for a 70% emission cut by 2030, with ambitions of becoming car-free by 2050, highlighting their proactive stance on clean air and sustainable living.

Sixth-ranked Białystok, where 83.49% of people are pleased with the air, is greening up and encouraging cleaner transport options, with a bold goal to slash air pollution by half by 2030.

Groningen, in seventh place with 83.19% satisfaction, has been boosting sustainable mobility since 2018, showing that car-free zones, better public transport, and bike-friendly policies can make a difference in air quality.

Reykjavik, at eighth with 81.79% satisfaction, is promoting electric cars, efficient energy use, and cutting industrial emissions, all part of their comprehensive plans to meet EU standards and improve air quality.

(Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Leipzig. Photo: Philipp / CC BY 2.0)

Leipzig, just behind with 81.26% satisfaction, is enhancing public transport and making streets more bike and pedestrian-friendly, with an eye on electric buses to cut down on emissions by 2025.

Dublin rounds out the top ten, also with 81.26% satisfaction, through ambitious plans to enhance sustainable transport, cleaner heating solutions, and broader public engagement on air quality issues.

These cities are leading by example, showing how dedicated efforts to improve air quality can make our urban areas healthier and more enjoyable places to live. From electric vehicles in Aalborg and Leipzig to green spaces in Białystok and renewable energy in Dublin, the positive effects of these actions on air quality are clear. Not only do they boost public health and well-being, but they also enhance citizen satisfaction, highlighting the vital connection between sustainable urban policies and quality of life.