BRUSSELS. Belgium, July 15, 2015 (ENS) – The European Parliament Environment Committee today agreed on tougher new national caps on air pollutants than those proposed by the European Commission. The committee vote is part of a major revision to EU air quality legislation which seeks to reduce the disastrous effects air pollution has on human health and the environment.

The MEPs are working to craft the National Emissions Ceilings law, which will set limits to pollutants each of the 28 EU Member States can emit in the years 2020, 2025 and 2030.

Air pollution in the European Union causes over 400,000 premature deaths and between €300 billion and €940 billion in health-related damage every year.


The European Parliament building, Brussels, Belgium (Photo by Kurt Rasche)

The committee called for more ambitious national caps on emissions of six main pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, in order to cut emissions by 70 percent across the EU and save €40 billion in air pollution costs by 2030.

The MEPs also want to include emissions reduction ceilings on mercury, and a midpoint target for most caps of 2025.

“The new NEC directive is the opportunity to tackle this important health issue, by putting in place the benchmarks for Member States to work towards. We cannot underestimate the benefits that would result from cleaning up the air we breathe,” said the rapporteur, MEP Julie Girling after the committee adopted her report by 38 votes to 28, with two abstentions.

Representing the United Kingdom, Girling is a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists, ECR, group in the European Parliament.

The committee wants the future national emission ceiling directive to include caps on mercury from 2020, as well as the new caps in all 28 member states on emissions of the air pollutants sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), methane (CH4) ammonia (NH3), and particulate matter (PM2.5) to be achieved by 2020 and 2030, that are proposed by the Commission.

The committee stressed that more ambitious targets should be set in order to reach 2030 goals.

In order to ensure progress towards the goals set for 2030, the environment committee suggests that midpoint emissions targets for 2025 be added to the legislation. The midpoint targets would be fully binding for all pollutants, with the exception of methane.

The committee also voted to remove the Commission proposal for flexibility allowing members states to offset reductions in emissions from nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxides and particulate matter from international shipping. Offering maritime offsets would be extremely difficult to apply, and would essentially exclude landlocked countries, the committee believes.


London, England is suffocating in its smoggy air, April 30, 2014 (Photo by David Holt)

Significant non-compliance with existing air quality standards and the EU’s new international obligations under the Gothenburg Protocol prevent better protection of EU citizens and its environment.

The number of zones not in compliance with PM10 and NO2 standards amount to 32 percent and 24 percent; 40m citizens are still exposed to PM10 levels above the EU limit values.

The report will be put to a plenary vote in Strasbourg, France in October.

According to the European Commission, air pollution causes substantial environment and health impacts. In 2010 annual premature mortalities amounted to over 400,000 and 62 percent of the EU area was exposed to eutrophication, including 71 percent of Natura 2000 protected ecosystems.

Total health-related external costs are in the range of €330-940bn per year, including direct economic damages of €15bn from lost workdays, €4bn healthcare costs, €3bn crop yield loss and €1bn damage to buildings.

“Today’s vote is good news for all of Europe’s citizens,” said Louise Duprez, senior policy officer for air quality at the European Environmental Bureau, EEB, the largest federation of environmental groups on the continent.

“The European Parliament’s Environment Committee wants to tackle air pollution and help bring about healthier and longer lives, lower health bills and greater economic productivity. This makes perfect sense given that the benefits of cleaner air far outweigh any costs of taking action,” said Duprez. “The Environment Committee has shown leadership in the fight against air pollution.”

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