Skip to main content
News article8 January 2021Directorate-General for Environment4 min read

Second Clean Air Outlook report: Full implementation of clean air measures could reduce premature deaths due to air pollution by 55% in 2030

The number of premature deaths due to air pollution could be reduced by around 55% in 2030 compared to 2005, if Member States implemented all measures agreed and announced under the existing EU legislation regulating sources of air pollution and limiting climate change. This is the conclusion of the Second Clean Air Outlook report, which presents the prospects for reducing air pollution in the European Union up to 2030 and beyond. The report also stresses that more could be done, as there are still plenty of measures for reducing air pollution that would bring more benefits than costs to society.

Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Oceans Virginijus Sinkevičius said: This report sends a clear message. Further reducing air pollution would save more lives, reduce pressure on ecosystems and it makes economic sense. This is the approach we are taking with the European Green Deal and our Zero Pollution ambition. It is paramount that all Member States fully implement the agreed and planned measures and step up efforts to tackle emissions.

The report updates the analysis of the First Clean Air Outlook, in particular by including the measures put forward by Member States in their National Air Pollution Control Programmes and an increased level of ambition to fight climate change. It feeds into the preparation of the Zero Pollution Action Plan, contributing to the European Green Deal objective to “protect, conserve and enhance the EU's natural capital, and protect the health and well-being of citizens from environment-related risks and impacts”.

The report shows that with the full implementation of all existing legislation, most Member States would be on track to fulfil the 2030 reduction commitments for four (sulphur dioxides, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds and fine particulate matter) out of the five air pollutants regulated under the National Emission reduction Commitments (NEC) Directive. The additional clean air measures announced in the National Air Pollution Control Programmes would accelerate further the projected improvements. However, these measures would not be enough to reduce ammonia emissions (which originate at 90% from the agricultural sector) to maximum permitted levels, as fifteen Member States would still have to urgently take actions beyond those announced in their national programmes. 

The Second Clean Air Outlook shows that the clean air measures examined bring net benefits to society, with the benefits of these measures always overriding their costs, and contributing to boosting GDP in the long run. These benefits increase with more ambitious clean air and climate actions, highlighting the synergies of these two policies.  

The analysis also shows that, if all adopted clean air and climate legislation were fully implemented, the proportion of the EU population living in areas satisfying the current WHO Guidelines for fine particulate matter could more than double between 2015 and 2030. Nonetheless, this would still leave at least 12% of the EU population in 2030 exposed to levels of fine particulate matter above the current WHO Guidelines value. With the most ambitious possible clean air policy, this share would be reduced to 4%. However, even under this scenario, almost half of EU Natura 2000 areas would still be threatened by eutrophication due to air pollution.

As even relatively low levels of exposure to air pollution are harmful to human health and to ecosystems, there is a need to reinforce efforts at all levels (Member States, regional and international levels) to reduce air pollution.



The EU’s approach to improving air quality rests on three pillars: the ambient air quality standards set out in the Ambient Air Quality Directives (Directives 2004/107 and 2008/50); national emission reduction obligations set in the National Emission reduction Commitments Directive (Directive 2016/2284) for the most important transboundary air pollutants; and emission standards for key sources of pollution, from vehicle and ship emissions to energy and industry. The Commission follows closely the implementation of these pieces of legislation, including with infringement procedures when needed.

The National Emission reduction Commitments (NEC) Directive is the main legislative instrument to achieve the 2030 objective of the Clean Air Programme of halving health impacts from air pollution by 2030 compared to 2005. The First Clean Air Outlook presented the prospects for achieving this with the measures in place in 2017. Since then, the ambition for tackling climate change has increased and Member States submitted their first National Air Pollution Control Programmes, presenting the measures they will put in place to attain their obligations under the NEC Directive. Those measures were analysed in the Commission’s First Implementation Report of the NEC Directive. On this basis, the Second Clean Air Outlook updates the analysis of the First Outlook, to provide guidance to Member States for the implementation of the NEC Directive and to contribute to the zero-pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment under the European Green Deal.

The Second Clean Air Outlook also provides elements for the delivery of the European Green Deal announcement that the Commission will draw on the lessons learnt from the Fitness Check of the two EU Ambient Air Quality Directives and will notably propose to revise EU air quality standards to align them more closely with the WHO recommendations.


Publication date
8 January 2021
Directorate-General for Environment

EU Environment newsletter

Green landscape with person on bike, tree and buildings in the distance.

EU Environment newsletters deliver the latest updates about the European Commission’s environmental priorities straight to your inbox.