Air quality deal in sight, but at what cost?

Environment ministers meeting in Luxembourg today (Monday) suggested they were moving closer to a deal on air pollution limits. However, away from the cameras, many countries, including the UK, France, Poland, Italy and Romania, continue to push to allow factories, cars and industrial farms to continue polluting with very few constraints after 2030 [1].

Louise Duprez, Senior Policy Officer for Air Quality at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said:

It is breathtaking that environment ministers are happy to back measures that will allow several thousands of extra people to die every year in the EU instead of fighting for a deal that will better protect people and nature from air pollution.”

The EEB welcomed the interventions in today’s debate by countries including the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden and Belgium, which emphasised the need to protect human health and nature. In particular, we back the statement by Sweden that the costs of action to tackle air pollution are less than the costs of inaction and that “costs alone” are not a reason to fight this deal.

The EEB will continue to call on governments in the coming days to change their mind and sign up to a genuinely clean air agreement before the end of the Dutch EU Presidency [2].

Notes to editors:

[1] NEC is a major piece of EU law aimed at protecting Europeans’ from the harmful effects of air pollution. The NEC Directive sets caps on the amount of air pollution that EU countries can emit. It currently looks at caps for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), ammonia (NH3), and methane (CH4), to be met by Member States by 2020, 2025 and 2030.

The sticking points in the current negotiations include the following:

·         Overall ambition level: the Council wants to water down ambition level from 52% health improvement to 48% by 2030. This would result in 16,000 premature deaths every year according to European Commission estimates. Ammonia limits are most opposed, due to strong farming pressure. See here why we care about ammonia and here how it can be reduced.

·         2025 binding limits or not: the European Parliament wants to introduce legally binding limits for 2025, which would require earlier action to tackle air pollution. The Commission and Council oppose this.

·         Caps for methane: the Parliament and Commission want to limit methane because it contributed to ground level ozone which is harmful to human health. The Council wants it out. See here why we care about methane and how it can be reduced.

·          Get-out-of-jail free cards: the Council wants to include several flexibilities in the Directive, making the limits much more difficult to enforce. For instance, they propose to average their emissions over 3 years in case of ‘dry summer’ or ‘cold winter’. They also propose to escape responsibility in case emissions from one sector turn out to be greater than expected, as happened with dieselgate. Here is why we think they should be rejected.

Last month, mayors of London and Paris Sadiq Khan and Anne Hidalgo wrote to EU ministers saying they needed a strong NEC directive in order to improve air quality in their cities.

[2] The Dutch Presidency suggested that a trialogue on the issue could be held as early as tomorrow (Tuesday).

Ahead of today’s EU Environment Council, the EEB sent a letter to the Dutch EU Presidency and EU environment ministers: Input to the EU Environment Council Meeting, Luxembourg, 20 June 2016

EEB PR: Air quality improvements under threat as Parliament rejects poor Council offer (9 June 2015)

Air quality deal in sight, but at what cost?
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