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„We must make our voices heard and claim our right to better air quality in Brussels“

The Brussels for Clean Air participatory democracy campaign is entering its second phase this month. After two months of collecting air quality problems in Brussels, the crowdsourcing platform is now transformed and enables citizens to propose their solutions to solve the most cited problems. Since the beginning of the campaign, citizen ambassadors have mobilised to spread the word about the initiative. Geoffrey Usé, president of GRACQ – Les cyclistes quotidiens, is himself a citizen ambassador for the campaign. In this context, we asked him about his engagement in the campaign. 

ECAS: How does Air pollution affect you in your daily life ? 

Geoffrey Usé (GU): I commute by bike on a daily basis and am therefore directly confronted with the pollution emitted by vehicles. Moreover, I have 4 children who are also directly exposed to exhaust fumes and fine particles. My family’s health and my own are therefore directly affected.

ECAS: Why did you decide to engage as citizen ambassador in Brussels for Clean Air ?

GU: I decided to get involved in the Brussels for Clean Air project because I believe that it is a fundamental right for all citizens to be able to enjoy good air quality in the place where they live. Just because we live in a city does not mean that the air quality should be worse, on the contrary! Improving air quality will have a direct impact on the quality of life of all Brussels residents

ECAS: Why should your fellow citizens participate in Brussels for Clean Air ?

GU: We must make our voices heard and claim our right to better air quality in Brussels. These issues are of paramount importance, especially given the current social context and the climate emergency. These issues must be given priority on the agenda of Belgian and European decision-makers.

ECAS: What do you think could be done to make air cleaner in Brussels?

GU: Direct action must be taken on the main causes of air pollution in the city, which are motorised travel and the use of fossil fuels for heating buildings. In terms of motorised travel, we must encourage travel by active modes such as walking and cycling. The use of private cars must be rationalised and the use of collective means of transport such as public transport or car-sharing must be developed as much as possible. With regard to the use of fossil fuels for heating buildings, the use of renewable energies (e.g. a combination of photovoltaics and heat pumps) should be encouraged as soon as possible and rapid action should be taken to improve the insulation of buildings in order to reduce the consumption of these fossil fuels and thus reduce the emission of combustion gases into the air.

ECAS: What is the GRACQ doing to tackle air pollution ? 

GU: The GRACQ’s mission is to promote the use of bicycles as a means of daily travel. Today, almost 50% of trips made by car in Brussels are less than 5km long. These journeys could easily be made by bicycle or by public transport or by combining several modes of transport. The GRACQ is therefore trying to help people and decision-makers change their habits in order to opt for a means of travel that is efficient, fast and that improves air quality in Brussels. 

ECAS: What do you think are the main challenges to reducing Air Pollution in Brussels ?

GU: We need to make the people of Brussels aware that each of them can have a significant impact on the quality of the air in the city. We need to inform them about the possible alternatives and the need to change their habits so that they and their children can enjoy a better quality of life in the city. Policy makers also need to have the courage to take strong and ambitious measures to reverse the current trend. A long-term political vision is needed that has the will to put people’s well-being back at the heart of decisions.

ECAS: Do you encounter resistance when you speak out against air pollution ?

GU: Obviously, there are still people who are reluctant because if we want to reduce air pollution, this requires changing certain habits. It is certain that change can sometimes frighten some people, but the stakes are so high today that this resistance must be overcome in order to improve air quality for all.

ECAS: What do you expect from Brussels for Clean Air? 

GU: I expect citizens to be inventive and ambitious in their proposals from Brussels for Clean Air. Air quality is a crucial issue for the coming decades and our decision-makers must take up this question and make it central to the implementation of public policies. This is why the Brussels for Clean Air project must enable us to formulate concrete and easy-to-implement solutions.

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