The bureau hailed Switzerland’s largest city for its commitment to cut pollution from vehicles, its promotion of cleaner forms of transport and for its low levels of pollution.
The “Sootfree Cities” ranking put Zurich ahead of Copenhagen, Vienna, Stockholm and Berlin.
Luxembourg, with one of the highest percentages of car users in the European Union, got the worst evaluation, just ahead of Lisbon and Rome.
The “comprehensive air quality strategy” of Zurich, with a population of 400,000 in the city and 1.3 million people in the metropolitan area, has made it the ranking’s winner this year, the EEB said.
The bureau noted that in Zurich and in runner-up city Copenhagen the number of cars has been substantially cut and there are restrictions on highly polluting vehicles such as diesel cars, trucks and construction machines.
“At the same time, cleaner forms of transport, such as public transport, cycling and walking have been greatly expanded,” it said.
“Zurich has already progressed well beyond the EU’s norms,” Arne Fellermann, transport officer at BUND, Friends of the Earth Germany, which helped develop the ranking, said in a statement.
But Fellermann noted that 90 percent of Europeans living in cities are still breathing unhealthy air.
Air pollution causes nearly half a million premature deaths each year in the EU and the average life expectancy of residents in the most polluted cities is reduced by two years as a result, the EEB said.
The worst areas have high concentrations of particulate matter (largely produced by diesel cars), nitrogen dioxide and ozone, the bureau said.
The ‘Sootfree Cities’ ranking evaluated 23 of Europe’s cities in nine transport-related categories, including the promotion of sustainable transport, traffic management, public procurement and economic incentives, such as congestion charges and parking.
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While Zurich is well below the EU’s air quality limits, it currently fails to meet the “far stricter” Swiss standards, the EEB said.
The bureau called for greater effort to cut pollution in Europe’s biggest cities.
“The EU must be more ambitious if it wants to prevent repeats of last week’s deadly smog,” EEB spokeswoman Louise Duprez said, referring to the recent high pollution levels in Paris and other cities.
For a look at the full rankings, check here.