Today and tomorrow, decision‑makers, stakeholders and experts from across the European Union will gather at the third EU Clean Air Forum organised by the European Commission and Spain to discuss further improvements in air quality. According to the latest findings of the European Environment Agency published this week, more than 360,000 people died prematurely due to exposure to various sources of air pollution in the EU in 2019. This marks a decrease since the year 2005, and shows that clean air policies can deliver successes. Nevertheless, more than half of these deaths could have been avoided if EU Member States had reached the WHO’s new air quality guideline level of 5 µg/m3.
Opening the Forum Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President responsible for the European Green Deal, said:
Air pollution is still the first environmental cause of premature death in Europe and in the world. It leaves the most vulnerable, those who cannot move away when air pollution spikes, at particularly high risk. The good news is that in most cases, climate action also helps to reduce air pollution. Vice versa, acting for clean air will help to speed up climate action.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, participating in the Forum said:
Over the past decades, EU Clean Air Policy has achieved some successes, but we need to do more to reach our zero-pollution ambition and provide EU citizens with clean air. The third EU Clean Air Forum offers an opportunity to discuss what and how with policymakers at the national, local and international level, as well as leading scientists in the field.
The Third EU Clean Air Forum addresses six topics in more detail (1) zero pollution: air quality & health; (2) engagement with cities and citizens; (3) linking clean air, climate and recovery; (4) air pollution, climate change and biodiversity; (5) access to justice and a right to clean air; and (6) air quality: revision of EU rules.
The Forum will see the launch of the mobile application ‘European Air Quality Index’. Developed by the European Environment Agency and the European Commission, the index allows users to understand more about air quality and related impacts where they live, work or travel – now including on their smartphones and other mobile devices.
In addition, the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission will publish an updated version of the ‘Urban PM2.5 Atlas’ which provides information on the origins of air pollution (i.e. fine particulate matter) in 150 European cities. The Atlas can help authorities to understand where to focus efforts to improve air quality, and underlines the importance and urgency of taking both city-specific measures and policy action at the European level.
The outcome of the discussions at the Forum will inform the on-going revision of EU rules on ambient air quality. In parallel, an open public consultation will continue to collect views on the future of EU Clean Air Policy, and remains open for feedback until 16 December 2021.
During the one and a half day of keynote speeches, on-stage interviews and interactive panel discussions, Virginijus Sinkevičius (Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Director-General of the World Health Organization), Michael Bloomberg (UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Ambition and Solutions), and José Luis Martinez Almeida (Mayor of Madrid) offer keynote remarks to inform the debate at the Forum. The Forum also features a dialogue with Spanish novelist Antonio Muñoz Molina to explore the role of air pollution in society and witness a novelist perspective on clean air.
Air pollution remains the number one environmental health problem in the EU. According to estimates of the European Environment Agency, each year up to 400 000 premature deaths can be attributed to air pollution each year in the EU (note that for 2019, the estimates include 307 000 due to fine particulate matter; 40 400 due to nitrogen dioxide; 16,800 due to ozone). This type of pollution is the cause of serious illnesses such as asthma, cardiovascular problems and lung cancer. Air pollution also adversely affects the environment, and is costly for our economy.
The Clean Air Forum is organised every two years, to provide input for guidance and facilitate the coordinated implementation of Union legislation and policies related to improving air quality. It brings together all stakeholders including competent authorities of the Member States at all relevant levels, the Commission, industry, civil society, and the scientific community – to exchange experience and good practices that can inform and enhance the air policy and their implementation, including related to domestic heating and road transport. Previous editions took place in Paris in 2017 and in Bratislava in 2019.
Europe’s air quality status 2021 (EEA briefing published on 21 September 2021)
Health impacts of air pollution in Europe (EEA briefing published on 15 November 2021)
- 18 November 2021
- Generaldirektoratet for Miljø