Today, the European Commission is launching an open public consultation on the revision of EU rules on ambient air quality, a key deliverable of the European Green Deal. This revision aims to align the EU air quality standards more closely with the new recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) published yesterday and to strengthen provisions on air quality monitoring, modelling and plans to help local authorities achieve clean air.
Each year, 400,000 people in the EU die prematurely as a result of air pollution. The health and economic costs of air pollution due to lost workdays, healthcare, crop yield loss, and damage to buildings cost an estimated EUR 330 to 940 billion per year in the EU. The revision of the rules will contribute to improving air quality and, as announced by the EU Action Plan: “Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil”, aim to reduce the number of premature deaths by at least 55% by 2030.
Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said:
We have set a zero-pollution ambition for a non-toxic environment and we want EU’s citizens to breathe clean air. In order to get there, we need to address specific pollutants of concern and as WHO’s just revised guidelines tell us, we need to be even stricter with those. I invite everyone to share their views on how we can improve our air quality legislative framework to deliver a high level of health and environmental protection.
The updated WHO Air Quality Guidelines – a key building block to underpin the Commission’s considerations on the desired ambition level – set pollution levels that are significantly lower than currently, especially for the air pollutants with the largest health impact in Europe. A briefing by the European Environment Agency on Europe’s air quality status published this week showed that air pollution continues to be too high in most EU Member States.
The consultation follows the publication of the inception impact assessment that outlines the objectives of the revision and outlines ways of improving the Ambient Air Quality Directives. Specifically, it maps the following policy areas to be explored:
- Policy area 1: closer alignment of the EU air quality standards with scientific knowledge including the latest recommendations of the WHO.
- Policy area 2: improving the air quality legislative framework, to increase its legal certainty and enforceability, including as regards the provisions on public information, penalties and access to effective remedies.
- Policy area 3: strengthening of air quality monitoring, modelling and plans.
The consultation on the revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directives is open for feedback for 12 weeks until 16 December 2021. Feedback will be taken into account for the impact assessment that the Commission is currently preparing, in line with the Better Regulation requirements and in view of adopting a legislative proposal in the second half of 2022.
Air pollution remains the number one environmental health problem in the EU. According to estimates of the European Environment Agency, around 400 000 premature deaths can be attributed to air pollution each year in the EU. 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.
On 22 September 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) published their updated Global Air Quality Guidelines (the previous update dates back to 2005). The Guidelines recommend new air quality exposure levels for six air pollutants, where evidence has advanced the most on health effects from exposure: particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), ozone (O₃), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) sulfur dioxide (SO₂) and carbon monoxide (CO). By striving to achieve these guideline levels, countries will be both protecting health as well as mitigating global climate change. As meeting new air quality guideline exposure levels will be a difficult task for many countries and regions struggling with high air pollution levels, the WHO also proposes interim targets to facilitate stepwise improvement in air quality and thus gradual, but meaningful, health benefits for the population.
The WHO also presented this updated version of their Global Air Quality Guidelines at a first stakeholder meeting on the revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directives that took place today. This aim of this meeting was to identify and confirm the issues for the impact assessment, and gather initial views on the ambition level for the revision of the Directives.
Europe’s air quality status 2021 (EEA briefing published on 21 September 2021)
WHO press release on the revised air quality guidelines
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