EU air pollution law approved: now is the time for action

traffic jams in the city, road, rush hour

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) meeting in Strasbourg have finally approved new EU-wide air pollution rules.

Louise Duprez, EEB Senior Policy Officer, said:

“This is good news, but far from sufficient and will not put an end to premature deaths and diseases caused by air pollution in the EU. These rules will achieve even less if Member States fail to swiftly implement them and the European Commission does not fulfil its role as a watchdog and bring countries to account when they abuse the flexibilities in the new laws.”

The updated National Emission Ceilings (NEC) directive sets air pollution limits that are expected to halve the health impact of air pollution by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. But this is far from sufficient: even after full implementation of the directive in 2030, around 250,000 Europeans are still likely to die prematurely because of air pollution every year.

In addition to poor pollution limits, the deal is further weakened by offering a range of flexibilities that, if abused, will allow Member States to bypass the new rules.

Member States will now have to develop air pollution plans in the next couple of years, showing how they plan to fulfil the new limits. These will have to be updated regularly based on public consultations.


Notes to editors:

The final deal includes the following:

  • Caps for particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and ammonia (NH3), to be achieved by member states by 2020 and 2030. The caps are expected to result in a 49.6% reduction in premature mortality by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels). This will result in nearly 10,000 additional premature deaths every year compared to the original proposal by the European Commission and Parliament.
  • No caps for methane. The Parliament and Commission wanted to limit methane as it contributes to ground level ozone which is harmful to human health. The Council succeeded in removing methane from the final deal.
  • Get-out-of-jail free cards. The Council succeeded in forcing the Parliament to accept several so-called “flexibilities” in the Directive, making the limits much more difficult to enforce. For instance, member states will be allowed to average their emissions over three years in case of ‘dry summer’ or ‘cold winter’. They will also be able to escape responsibility in case emissions from one sector turn out to be greater than expected, as already happened with dieselgate.
  • Existing EU rules have already casused air pollution to decrease sunbstantially over recent decades. For example, sulphur dioxide emissions that cause acid rain have been cut by more than 80% in the past two decades.
  • Nonetheless an EEA report published today highlights the magnitude of Europe’s air quality problem. In 2013, exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) was responsible for over 436, 000 premature deaths in the EU. In 2014, around 85% of the urban EU population was exposed to PM2.5 at levels deemed harmful to health by the World Health Organization (WHO). Particulate matter can cause or aggravate cardiovascular diseases, asthma and lung cancer.

For more information:

Anton Lazarus, Communication Officer - Industrial Pollution, European Environmental Bureau,, +32 (0) 2 790 88 18.
EU air pollution law approved: now is the time for action
This website uses cookies to improve your experience. By using this website you agree to our Data Protection Policy.
Read more