The Environmental Noise Directive is the main EU law to identify noise pollution levels and act on them. It focuses on four action areas
- determining exposure to environmental noise and assessing its health effects at single dwelling level
- ensuring that information on environmental noise and its effects is made available to the public
- preventing and reducing environmental noise
- preserving environmental noise quality in areas where it is good
The Directive requires EU countries to prepare and publish noise maps and noise management action plans every 5 years for
- agglomerations with more than 100 000 inhabitants
- major roads (more than 3 million vehicles a year)
- major railways (more than 30 000 trains a year)
- major airports (more than 50 000 take-offs or landings a year, including small aircrafts and helicopters)
When developing noise management action plans, national authorities must consult the concerned public. The plans are available here by selecting: the Member State, EU obligations, Environmental Noise Directive, Noise maps/Action plans.
The Directive does not set limit or target values for environmental noise, nor does it prescribe the measures to be included in the action plans. This is for the competent Member State authorities to decide.
The Directive serves as a knowledge base to amend or introduce noise limits on road, railway and aircraft vehicles.
Noise is a health problem for at least 1 in 5 EU citizens. There is therefore a need to coordinate efforts at EU level to reduce this burden on the everyday life of millions of citizens. The Directive acts as the framework legislative tool linking all actions at international, EU and local level. Noise is a complex issue, so effective solutions come from coordinated EU and local actions.
The Directive aims to establish a common EU approach to avoid, prevent or reduce the harmful effects of exposure to environmental noise. The Directive does not include a common noise reduction objective nor EU noise limits.
Directive 2002/49/EC relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise
Revisions of the Directive
Annex II of the Directive describes the common EU methods for calculating exposure to different noise levels. These methods comprise a set of formulas and coefficients to be used to calculate noise levels at the façade of the buildings. The common methods were adopted through a revision of Annex II in 2015, and improved further in 2020.
Annex III of the Environmental Noise Directive describes the methods for calculating the burden of disease caused by exposure to specific noise levels. The methods include dose-effect relations for a set of health endpoints such as cardiovascular disease, annoyance and sleep disturbance. Annex III was revised in 2020 following the latest scientific review of the health effects of noise that is being performed by the WHO.
Evaluation of the Directive
The Commission published an evaluation of the Directive in 2016, addressing questions of effectiveness, efficiency, coherence, relevance and EU added value. The results are summarised in a Staff Working Document with and Executive Summary in English, French and German.
The evaluation found that
- the Directive remains highly relevant for EU policy-making as noise pollution still constitutes a major environmental health problem in Europe
- the Directive is coherent in itself and with other relevant EU legislation
- some progress has been made towards a common EU approach but there were delays in adopting common assessment methodologies
- administrative costs are low at €0.15 for noise maps and €0.03 for action plans per citizen, every 5 years
- a cost-benefit analysis showed that where action plans - including measures for noise management - have been implemented, the Directive was efficient with a favourable cost-benefit ratio of 1:29
- the Directive can generate EU added value by providing a level playing field across the EU in which transport infrastructure operators can compete, and by better informing EU policy-making
- as a result of delays in implementation, the Directive has not yet delivered all its potential EU added value
As required by the Directive, the Commission prepares a report on the implementation of the Directive every five years. The first implementation report was published in 2011, summarising progress in implementing the Directive and outlining possible improvements to enhance its effectiveness.
The second implementation report in 2017 found that EU countries have made progress in implementing the Environmental Noise Directive, but progress varies per country. Progress depends on each country’s level of ambition, resources allocated to implementation, and whether implementation is tasked to centralised or local authorities.
The Commission published a third implementation report in 2023, setting out how noise can be further reduced. The report shows progress achieved since the second implementation report, which includes a more systematic assessment of noise levels and the adoption of noise management action plans by Member States. However, it warns that the current number and intensity of actions must be increased if the number of people affected by transport noise by is to be reduced by 30% by 2030, as set out in the Zero Pollution Action Plan. A major study on the entire noise policy was performed in 2021 and informed this implementation report.
Studies and publications
Environmental noise in Europe – EEA 2020
Noise in Europe – EEA 2014