The BreatheLife campaign welcomes Montreal, a city of 1.7 million residents that often ranks among the world’s most liveable, famous for its Indian summers, bone-chilling winters and extensive underground city.
Its air quality also does well in rankings of urban areas around the globe, with average annual levels of fine particulate pollutant (PM2.5) falling within World Health Organization limits since 2014.
Neither happened by chance; Montreal has a history of taking action that supports good air quality.
In 1872, it became the first Canadian city to adopt a regulation to cut air pollution— at a time when coal was king and black smoke smothered the city.
As the thick smog lifted, Montreal also gradually replaced coal energy with hydropower.
“But the game is far from over and the stakes are more complex today than ever before. That is why my administration is firmly committed to the fight against greenhouse gases, a one we will face on several fronts,” said Mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante.
This complexity has led the city to take a holistic view towards urban development.
“When it comes to transportation, we are not directly addressing air pollution, but our planning approaches are aimed at reducing the length of travel, automobile dependency, and the footprint of transportation in the urban fabric,” said Mayor Plante.
Those planning approaches aim to develop and transform city sectors in ways that make them complete living environments where routine car use is unnecessary.
A large share of public roads is reserved for bicycles, pedestrians and public transport— in the form of cycle lanes and public bike sharing stations, widened sidewalks, and reserved lanes, respectively.
The city has created “mobility hubs” that connect different modes of transport.
Montreal pairs sustainable mobility with managing demand for private vehicle use through availability of parking spaces in the inner city.
Montreal was also an early adopter in introducing electric buses to its public transport network— even as many other cities held back— with the aim of making all new buses electric by 2025.
Montreal is a signatory to the Chicago Charter, which urges all signatory cities to provide their residents with safe and accessible active and public transport options.
“The Chicago Charter requires municipal governments to invest in their transit systems and in their fleet of vehicles to reduce their carbon footprint. We are therefore firmly committed to respecting our word, being proactive and ensuring better air quality for future generations,” said Mayor Plante.
Indeed, the city is working on the electrification of transport to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, a strategy that includes installing a network of public charging stations and gradually converting corporate vehicles to electric.
After vehicle emissions, wood burning was the most significant source of fine particle pollution in Montreal, leading the city to pass strict regulations on biomass burning in residences in October last year— only the cleanest-burning stoves and fireplaces are allowed, certified to emit no more than 2.5 grams of fine particles per hour.
It’s also working on achieving carbon neutrality in buildings. In 2018, Montreal committed to adopting regulations or planning policies that would see new buildings operating on a net zero carbon footprint by 2030, a measure that would be extended to all buildings by 2050.
The move was part of efforts to abide by the “Net Zero Carbon Buildings” statement at the Global Climate Action Summit, which the city supported.
Other efforts to reduce air pollution by the city include a focus on efficient and innovative solid waste management and the adoption of a greening plan to increase green canopy and reduce the “heat island” effect.
Montreal also works on public education and awareness-raising, sharing information on air quality through social media and its website, and encouraging actions and behavioural changes among its citizens that support better air quality.
“Air quality is the business of all Montrealers,” said Mayor Plante. “Although the situation is improving all over the island, all neighborhoods and households still have a role to play in reducing air pollution, if only by their choice of means of greening of their streets.”
All of this continues to pay off, as Montreal’s air quality rides a positive trend.
Between 2009 and 2016, Montrealers saw a fall of 38 per cent in concentrations of fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) in their atmosphere.
Between 2000 and 2016, concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in the city fell by 43 per cent, those of carbon monoxide by 53 per cent, sulfur dioxide by 81 per cent, hydrogen sulphide by 75 per cent, nitrogen oxide by 77 per cent and benzene by 90 per cent.
These are the most recent results of 50 years of monitoring air quality: in the last half-century, the city has been measuring air quality using continuous analyzers installed in 15 sampling stations, strategically located in the Montreal agglomeration. These monitors operate 365 days a year, 24 hours a day and the results are available on the city’s website.
The data also supports Montreal’s role as a partner in the Info Smog program, which issues a daily forecast of air quality and communicates it to the general public.
The BreatheLife campaign welcomes Montreal on its clean air, climate action and liveability journey.