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Air quality: Council and Parliament strike deal to strengthen standards in the EU

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Despite major improvements in air quality in the EU over the past three decades, air pollution continues to be the number one environmental cause of premature death. It disproportionally affects vulnerable groups such as children, elderly people and people with pre-existing conditions, as well as socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. It also has a negative impact on the environment, causing damage to ecosystems and biodiversity.

To address air pollution, the EU has two ambient air quality directives, dating from 2004 and 2008. The revision of those directives was put forward by the European Commission in October 2022, as an integral part of the EU’s zero pollution action plan in the framework of the European Green Deal. Under this action plan, the Commission undertook to revise the EU’s air quality standards to align them more closely with the WHO’s recommendations.

On 20th February the European Council presidency and the European Parliament’s representatives reached a provisional political agreement on a proposal to set EU air quality standards to be attained with the aim of achieving a zero-pollution objective, thus contributing to a toxic-free environment in the EU by 2050. It also seeks to bring EU air quality standards in line with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.

The agreement still needs to be confirmed by both institutions before going through the formal adoption procedure.

For the EU, the health of its citizens is a priority. This is what we have demonstrated today with this crucial agreement that will contribute to achieve the EU’s zero-pollution ambition by 2050. The new rules will drastically improve the quality of the air we breathe and help us effectively tackle air pollution, thus reducing premature deaths and health related risks.

Alain Maron, minister of the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region, responsible for climate change, environment, energy and participatory democracy.

With the new rules, the co-legislators agreed to set out enhanced EU air quality standards for 2030 in the form of limit and target values that are closer to the WHO guidelines and that will be regularly reviewed. The revised directive covers a host of air-polluting substances, including fine particles and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), benzo(a)pyrene, arsenic, lead and nickel, among others, and establishes specific standards for each one of them. For instance, the annual limit values for the pollutants with the highest documented impact on human health, PM2.5 and NO2, would be reduced from 25 µg/m³ to 10 µg/m³ and from 40 µg/m³ to 20 µg/m³ respectively.

The provisional agreement provides member states with the possibility to request, by 31 January 2029 and for specific reasons and under strict conditions, a postponement of the deadline for attaining the air quality limit values:

  • until no later than 1 January 2040 for areas where compliance with the directive by the deadline would prove unachievable due to specific climatic and orographic conditions or where the necessary reductions can only be achieved with significant impact on existing domestic heating systems
  • until no later than 1 January 2035 (with possibility to extend it by two more years) if projections show that the limit values cannot be achieved by the attainment deadline.

To request these postponements, member states will have to include air quality projections in their air quality roadmaps (to be established by 2028) demonstrating that the exceedance will be kept as short as possible and that the limit value will be met by the end of the postponement period at the latest. During the period of postponement, member states will also have to regularly update their roadmaps and report on their implementation.

The provisional agreement will now be submitted to the member states’ representatives within the Council (Coreper) and to the Parliament’s environment committee for endorsement.

EU Briefs publie des articles provenant de diverses sources extérieures qui expriment un large éventail de points de vue. Les positions prises dans ces articles ne sont pas nécessairement celles d'EU Briefs.

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