EU Parliament approves new caps on air pollution

Proposed cuts will help reduce health impacts of air pollution by 50 per cent, according to Parliament's rapporteur.

Air pollution | Photo credit: Press Association

By Rajnish Singh

Rajnish Singh is Commissioning Editor at the Parliament Magazine

24 Nov 2016

Responding to the European Parliament's backing for more ambitious caps on emission on pollutants such as NOx and sulphur dioxide, rapporteur Julie Girling and rapporteur said, "I believe strongly that this vote is a step in the right direction. It is not a perfect solution, but it will go a long way to make important health improvements for our citizens."

Girling's report was voted through the European Parliament during this week's Strasbourg plenary. 

The new directive sets out national emission reduction commitments for sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), ammonia (NH3) and fine particulates.


According to the ECR group deputy, "The political back drop has changed dramatically over the course of the last three years, with the issue of air quality coming up the public agenda to an unprecedented level, in combination with the VW scandal and the issue of real driving emissions."

She added, "Perhaps there is also the recognition that we have spent the last decade concentrating so much on CO2, that we neglected air quality."

The report was backed by German EPP group shadow rapporteur Jens Gieseke, who said, "I am glad we have new limits in place as from 2020-2030.The agreement between Parliament and Council provides for ambitious, but realistic standards. Cleaner air is good for our health and the new directive can help achieve this."

According to EU figures, in 2010 air pollution caused 400,000 premature deaths, with total costs ranging between €330bn-940bn per year, including direct economic damage of €15bn from lost workdays and €4bn in health care costs. Air pollution has also affected crop yield, to the tune of €3bn and €1bn worth of damages to buildings.

Gieseke was also glad that methane gas emissions were not part of the new caps, saying, "It is good news that methane is off the scope of the directive. It makes more sense to deal with methane in greenhouse gas reduction policies […] and we must avoid unnecessary red tape."

European Environment Agency executive director Hans Bruyninckx also highlighted the need for stronger measures to tackle health problems caused by air pollution. 

"Emission reductions have led to improvements in air quality in Europe, but not enough to avoid unacceptable damage to human health and environment."

He added, "We need to tackle the root causes of air pollution, which calls for a fundamental and innovative transformation of our mobility, energy and food systems."

However, GUE/NGL group member Kateřina Konečná argued that proposals put forward to by the Parliament and Commission were watered by the Council. 

"This report is a missed opportunity. The final text is a mere shadow of a much more ambitious text we had approved. The negotiations were influenced by a feeling of panic especially as it happened when the Brexit referendum resultants came out."

She warned, ''What's behind these figures is the loss of human lives and many of these losses could have been prevented. This is without mentioning the other concessions made to Council."

Also fearing the negative effects of Brexit on legislation concerning the environment, UK Socialist MEP Seb Dance said, "We are critical juncture for the UK's environment and public health policy. The vast majority of our environmental protections, including air pollution limits, are derived from EU legislation - the government must move to assure the public there will not be a bonfire of these protections upon leaving the EU."


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