Clean Air for All: Stepping up Joint Efforts to Fight Air Pollution in Europe

According to the latest data by the World Health Organisation 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants (WHO, 2018). A 2017 report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) states that the human toll for poor air quality is worse than for road traffic accidents. Furthermore, the OECD projects that the market costs of air pollution (reduced productivity, additional health expenditure, crop losses, etc.) will increase to 2% of the European GDP by 2060 (OECD 2016).

With air pollution being perceived by citizens as the environmental issue of most concern after climate change (Special Eurobarometer 468, 2017), the EU has been taking measures to achieve levels of air quality that do not have a negative impact on human health and the environment. Examples include industrial installations such as large combustion plants or initiatives in the area of transport with fuel quality improvements and the successive Euro emission standards. Other key measures have been the revised National Emission Ceiling (NEC) Directive of 2016 setting targets for 2020 and 2030, the Urban Agenda for the EU, the Air Quality Index and the cooperation of member states through the Clean Air Dialogue.

Although air quality has improved in the EU over the last decades, many Member States citizens’ lives are hampered, as a number of States exceed the targets set in the NEC Directive for NOx, NMVOCs or NH3, particularly in urban areas. Moreover, the welfare costs due to premature deaths from air pollution are projected to more than double in European OECD countries by 2060 (EP briefing 2017). Implementation of policy largely taking place at the regional and local levels often prevents the adoption of more holistic and ambitious measures in the fight against air pollution. In this context cooperation at European, national and local levels and exchange of technology and innovation is crucial to meet the objectives set out by the EU and reduce the health impact and its costs.

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