EU member states overrule efforts for ambitious air pollution deal

Despite efforts by the European Commission and the European Parliament to put in place ambitious targets to slash air pollution, EU member states have agreed a weak National Emissions Ceiling (NEC) deal, putting industry and agriculture’s interests before people’s health. 

Louise Duprez, EEB Senior Policy Officer Air Quality, said: 

European action to cut air pollution is welcome and will help Europeans breathe more easily. But all in all this is a missed opportunity that will still leave tens of thousands of citizens exposed to avoidable air pollution. The European Parliament and the Commission had proposed strong measures, but they were defeated by member states, including the UK, France, Italy, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, which preferred to allow industry and agriculture to carry on polluting rather than focusing attention on measures to save people’s lives.

Pieter de Pous, EEB Policy Director, added:

“The EU has played a leading role in raising environmental standards in Europe, protecting nature and bringing citizens clean beaches, cleaner air and leading the world in tackling climate change. Today’s deal makes it painfully clear that member states need to significantly up their game in putting people’s health and concerns before those of vested interests if the EU is to continue playing such a leading role.”

The ball is now in the court of the Member States as they need to fully implement the Directive and, more importantly, go beyond its requirements and step up their ambition in the fight against air pollution.

Even if the Directive is fully implemented, over 250,000 people will still die because of air pollution in 2030 [1] while evidence shows that many more lives could be saved [2]. In particular, ambitious climate and energy policies can deliver clean air [3]. 

The EEB also calls on member states to urgently deliver methane reductions, which they argued would be better done under climate policies than as part of the NEC Directive.

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 nearly10,000 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.

Notes to editors:

[1] Estimates based on numbers from the European Commission’s impact assessment and estimates from Commissioner Vella at the Environment Council in December 2015 

 [2] The impact assessments by the European Commission and European Parliament show that more ambitious scenarios are possible and would bring benefits which by far outweigh the costs. Those scenarios can be found and compared on the EEB’s Air O Meter (including benefits and costs for each of them).

[3] The European Parliament published a complementary impact assessment showing that climate and energy policies would lead to significant air quality improvements for costs that are lower than in the initial Commission proposal

EEB air pollution cartoon (on Facebook). 

EU member states overrule efforts for ambitious air pollution deal
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