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30 June 2016: Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and Member States (Council) come to an agreement on the final text of the new NEC (National Emissions Ceilings) Directive, also called the EU air quality Directive. The European Commission had put forward in 2013 a rather comprehensive “Clean Air package” including a new NEC Directive, with stricter national emission ceilings for six main pollutants, and provisions for black carbon (BC), which also help to mitigate climate change.

[photo: Catherine Hartmann]

Had it been agreed and fully implemented by 2030 and compared to business as usual (i.e. implementation of current legislation), the new Clean Air Policy Package was estimated to prevent 58 000 premature deaths and produce health savings of between EUR 40 billion and 140 billion.

Air pollution is responsible for over 400,000 deaths in the EU– fifteen times more than from road traffic accidents.[1]  In addition to causing premature deaths, air pollution increases the incidence of a wide range of chronic diseases – respiratory, cardiovascular and cancer, allergies, with both long and short-term health effects.[2] The health related economic costs of air pollution are enormous, amounting to between €330 and €940 billion for the EU in the year 2010 alone.

After 2 years of inter-institutional discussions, votes and negotiations, the EU came to a watered-down final text. Compared to the original  draft from the European Commission, amended by the European Parliament, the Directive is now expected to save around 48,000 lives EU wide in 2030, compared to business as usual (provided it is fully implemented). The 52% cut in mortality by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels) was brought down to 49,6% which means approximately 9,400 additional deaths compared to the Commission and Parliament proposals (Council wanted 48% initially).  A series of so called ‘flexibilities’ were introduced, making it more difficult to enforce the new rules, so the overall ambition level is likely to be weaker in practice.

The final deal includes the following (source: European Environment Bureau – EEB):

  • 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.
  • 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.

While ECC recognized the effort made by the European Union came to an agreement on the NEC Directive, and to reduce people’s exposure to poor air quality, inter alia affecting their lung and their breathing capacity, ECC regrets a lack of ambition and a rather national vision (instead of pan-European) on the necessary reduction to be performed on domestic emissions of pollutants.

ECC had campaigned with other like-minded associations for stricter rules and targets, via letters, meetings with Council representatives and wide social-media actions:

The consolidated text, as approved by the Council and the European Parliament Committee on health and environment.

[1] Ranking EU progress on road safety:  which shows 26,000  traffic deaths in EU28 in 2014, 32, 000 in 2010.

[2] European Environment Agency Air Quality in Europe 2014

July 1st, 2016 | Published in Clean air, EU Policy,