Civil society warns that the Council of the EU’s position on the proposed Ambient Air Quality Directives (AAQD) disregards science and weakens ambition for legislation that will save lives.
On Thursday November 9, 2023, the Council adopted its negotiating position on the proposed AAQD, dealing a significant blow to efforts aimed at strengthening air quality standards in the EU.
While the Council’s position moves the negotiations on the law forward, it nevertheless ignores both science on air pollution impacts and the analysis on its economic burden.
The Council’s position introduces huge derogations and possibilities for Member States to postpone the deadline for compliance with air quality standards from 2030 to 2040 and beyond. This, and other worrying elements, completely undermine the legal framework.
If the Council’s position made it to the final legislation, the result would be legal standards that are simply a facade for a directive deprived of any enforceability.
Margherita Tolotto, Policy Manager for Air and Noise at the EEB, said:
“We are very concerned by the Council’s negotiating position and we regretfully take note of the efforts made by some large Member States in weakening the text. Clearly, they have not worked with their citizens’ health in mind. Very little has been done up to now to deliver on existing air quality objectives, and the Council’s position shows that Member States are committed to doing very little in the future.
Today, those suffering from air pollution have been told it does not matter. What matters for many Member States is being allowed to sit on this problem until 2040 and beyond and to avoid any infringement procedures.” .”
Dr. Ebba Malmqvist, Air Pollution & Climate Secretariat (AirClim), said:
“We are saddened to hear that people with a lower income, who are already struggling, might have to wait until 2040 and beyond, to breathe cleaner air, as suggested in the Council’s proposal. Being poor should not mean that your health is less important.”
Zachary Azdad, Vehicles Policy Officer at Transport & Environment, said:
“We are very disappointed with the overall level of ambition agreed by Member States. Delaying compliance by at least 10 years after 2030 willingly ignores the urgent need to take action to reduce air pollution in our cities. It gives dirty diesel and petrol cars the green light to pollute for years to come.”
Emma Bud, lawyer at ClientEarth, said:
“With its negotiating position, the Council has made clear its disregard for Europeans’ health. Although on the face of it, the Council has agreed with the Commission’s proposed legal limits, it has introduced wide-ranging exemptions which mean people could be exposed to toxic air until 2040 or even longer. Especially shocking is the proposal that people from socio-economically disadvantaged communities must wait to breathe healthy air. This version of the law would utterly fail to protect Europeans, and be a stain on the bloc’s public health record.”
The commitment of the Spanish Presidency of the Council has secured the negotiating position before the end of its mandate and it is now incumbent on both the European Commission and the European Parliament to ensure an ambitious AAQD is achieved during the trilogue negotiations, expected to start imminently.
Notes: The Ambient Air Quality Directives (AAQD) are a cornerstone of European Union legislation aimed at regulating and improving air quality across Member States. Its primary objective is to protect human health and the environment by setting specific air quality standards and emission limits for various air pollutants, including particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), lead (Pb), benzene, and ozone (O3).
Air pollution is responsible for around 300,000 premature deaths annually in Europe, making it the foremost environmental threat to our health. Air pollution contributes to a wide range of health issues, including heart attacks, strokes, respiratory problems, diabetes, dementia, delayed cognitive development in children and lung cancer.