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Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution

The European Union sets objectives for reducing certain pollutants and reinforces the legislative framework for combating air pollution via two main routes: improving Community environmental legislation and integrating air quality concerns into related policies.

Act

Communication of 21 September 2005 from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament - Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution [COM(2005) 446 - Not published in the Official Journal]

SUMMARY

In order to attain "levels of air quality that do not give rise to significant negative impacts on, and risks to human health and environment", this Thematic Strategy supplements the current legislation. It establishes objectives for air pollution and proposes measures for achieving them by 2020: modernising the existing legislation, placing the emphasis on the most harmful pollutants, and involving to a greater extent the sectors and policies that may have an impact on air pollution.

Air Pollution

Air pollution seriously damages human health and the environment: respiratory problems, premature deaths, eutrophication * and damage to ecosystems as a result of the deposition of nitrogen and acidic substances are some of the consequences of this problem which is both local and transfrontier in nature.

The pollutants causing the greatest concern where public health is concerned are tropospheric ozone * and especially particulate matter * (in particular fine particles or PM2.5).

The objectives of the Strategy

The Strategy chosen sets health and environmental objectives and emission reduction targets for the main pollutants. These objectives will be delivered in stages, and will make it possible to protect EU citizens from exposure to particulate matter and ozone in air, and protect European ecosystems more effectively from acid rain, excess nutrient nitrogen, and ozone

When drawing up the Strategy, it was impossible to determine a level of exposure to particulate matter and tropospheric ozone that does not constitute a danger to human beings. However, a significant reduction in these substances will have beneficial effects in terms of public health, and will also generate benefits for ecosystems.

Compared with the situation in 2000, the Strategy sets specific long-term objectives (for 2020):

  • 47% reduction in loss of life expectancy as a result of exposure to particulate matter;
  • 10 % reduction in acute mortalities from exposure to ozone;
  • reduction in excess acid deposition of 74% and 39% in forest areas and surface freshwater areas respectively;
  • 43% reduction in areas or ecosystems exposed to eutrophication.

To achieve these objectives, SO2 emissions will need to decrease by 82%, NOx emissions by 60%, volatile organic compounds * (VOCs) by 51%, ammonia by 27%, and primary PM2.5 (particles emitted directly into the air) by 59% compared with the year 2000.

Implementing the Strategy will entail an incremental additional cost compared with spending on existing measures. This additional cost is likely to amount to EUR 7.1 billion per annum from 2020.

In terms of health, the savings that will be made as a result of the Strategy are estimated at EUR 42 billion per annum. The number of premature deaths should fall from 370 000 in 2000 to 230 000 in 2020 (compared with 293 000 in 2020 without the Strategy).

Where the environment is concerned, there is no agreed way to assign a monetary value to ecosystem damage or the likely benefits resulting from the Strategy. However, there should a be a favourable impact as a result of reducing acid rain and nutrient nitrogen inputs, resulting among other things in better protection for biodiversity.

Better European legislation on air quality

One of the crucial aspects in this respect is the simplification of legislation. A proposal to revise the legislation on air quality, which provides for merging the Framework Directive, the first, second, and third "Daughter Directives", and the Exchange of Information Decision, is therefore attached to the Strategy.

It is proposed that the legislation on particulate matter should be supplemented by setting a limit value of 25 g/m³ for fine particles (PM 2.5) and an interim reduction target of 20% to be attained between 2010 and 2020.

The Strategy also makes provision for revising the legislation on national emission ceilings, extending, subject to strict conditions, certain deadlines for the implementation of legislative provisions, modernising data communication, and improving coherence with other environmental policies.

Integrating air quality concerns into the sectors concerned

More efficient energy use can help to reduce harmful emissions. The targets set concerning the production of energy and electricity from renewable energy sources (12% and 21% respectively by 2010) and concerning biofuels are major factors in this connection. The Strategy makes provision for possible extension of the IPPC Directive and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive to small combustion plants. The establishment of standards for small heating installations is also envisaged through the new Energy-using Products Directive. The Strategy also provides for examining how to reduce VOC emissions at filling stations.

Turning to transport, the Strategy envisages new proposals concerning the reduction of emissions from new passenger cars and vans, and heavy-duty vehicles. In addition, it envisages improvements in vehicle approval procedures and other measures concerning the scope for differentiated charging, and older vehicles.

The Commission is also planning to examine the impact of aviation on climate change in a forthcoming communication. Where shipping is concerned, the Strategy provides for the continuation of negotiations in the context of the International Maritime Organisation, the promotion of shore-side electricity for ships in port, and the consideration of pollution issues in relation to funding through programmes such as Marco Polo.

Where agriculture is concerned, the strategy calls for measures to be promoted to reduce the use of nitrogen in animal feedingstuffs and fertilisers. The rules and proposals concerning rural development also provide for possible ways of reducing ammonia emissions from agricultural sources, in particular through farm modernisation. The ongoing reform of the rules relating to the cohesion instruments also includes proposals that will help to meet the objectives of the Strategy.

The Strategy also calls for air quality concerns to be taken into account in international forums and bilateral relations.

Background

The Strategy on Air Pollution is one of the seven thematic strategies provided for in the Sixth Environmental Action Programme adopted in 2002. It is the first of these strategies to be adopted formally by the Commission.

It is based on research carried under by the Clean Air For Europe (CAFE) programme and the successive research framework programmes, and was adopted following a lengthy consultation process involving the European Parliament, Non-Governmental Organisations and industry and private individuals.

Key terms used in the act
  • Eutrophication: Excess nutrient nitrogen (in the form of ammonia and nitrogen oxides) which disrupts plant communities, and leaches into fresh waters, leading in each case to a loss of biodiversity.
  • Tropospheric ozone: Ozone which is formed through chemical reactions between volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the presence of sunlight and which accumulates at low altitudes.
  • Particulate matter: Fine dust emitted by certain human activities (primary particles) or which are formed in the atmosphere (secondary particles) from gases such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ammonia (NH3). Particles differ in size: large particles (PM10) are between 2.5 and 10
    m in diameter, while fine particles (PM2.5) are less than 2.5
    m in diameter.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Carbon-based chemical compounds emitted into the atmosphere from natural sources or as a result of human activities (e.g. the use of solvents, paints and varnishes, the storage of motor fuel and the use of motor fuel in filling stations, and vehicle exhaust gases).
Last updated: 01.12.2005
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