Today 15 December 2015, the NEC directive was being discussed in Council, by ministers of Environment.[Image source: EEA
Text source: European Environmental Bureau]
The 28 Ministers fell short of the mark on the National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive, aimed at improving Europe’s poor air quality. Despite a strong steer from the European Parliament earlier this year, national ministers opted to water down this text thereby allowing emissions from harmful pollutants such as ammonia and fine particles to continue to be churned out in dangerously high amounts. The text also entirely removes methane from the Directive and contains a series of exemptions making the limits to be put in place at best unenforceable and at worst meaningless.
The National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive sets limits to the amount of pollution every EU country can emit on a yearly basis. Currently, the EU is looking at setting new caps for 2020, 2025 and 2030 for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), ammonia (NH3) and methane (CH4). The European Parliament broadly backed the European Commission’s proposal in a plenary vote on 28 October. Negotiations between the Parliament and Council are expected to start under the Dutch Presidency in 2016.
Air pollution continues to cause hundreds of thousands of premature deaths in the EU every year, as confirmed by the European Environment Agency (EEA) air quality report from this year.
The Council position weakens the ambition level from a Commission proposal that would reduce premature mortality by 2030 by 52% to 48% – just six percentage points more than what should be achieved under current legislation.
A number of loopholes – so-called ‘flexibilities’ – pushed by Member States with high premature death rates from air pollution including France, Italy, Germany and the UK – render the targets unenforceable. These include:
- Pollution-swapping – Member States would be allowed to exceed emissions limits for a pollutant by emitting less of another;
- 3-year averaging – extra emissions generated during dry summers, cold winters and unforeseen economic activities can be offset by better performance in later or earlier years;
- Member states have the option to set their own targets for reductions for 2025;
- No liability for Member States of an emissions source – for example, diesel cars – emits more than expected.
These flexibilities fundamentally undermine the basic purpose of the NEC Directive – to limit pollution, and prevent potentially hundreds of thousands of premature deaths across the EU.
However, this is not the final word on this issue; the European Council can still overturn this lack of ambition and reintroduce strong air pollution targets as it enters into negotiations with the European Parliament and the European Commission (in trilogue).