EU Sets Course to Improve Air Quality and Attain Zero-Pollution Target by 2050
The European Council has taken a significant step towards cleaner air in Europe by laying out its negotiating mandate for talks with the European Parliament on a plan to establish new air quality standards for the European Union. These standards aim to be reached by the end of the decade and place the EU on a trajectory to achieve its ambitious zero-air pollution target by 2050. The proposed standards align more closely with World Health Organization guidelines, reflecting the EU’s commitment to prioritizing public health and environmental protection.
The negotiating mandate, agreed upon at Coreper level, outlines the European Council’s position for the upcoming trilogue negotiations with the EU Parliament, where the final version of the legislation will be shaped. Teresa Ribera Rodríguez, Spain’s Minister for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, emphasized the urgency of addressing air pollution, stating, “Each year, we see around 300,000 premature deaths due to air pollution in Europe. This is unacceptable; we must act now.” She further noted that the agreement marks a critical step towards achieving cleaner air and a healthier environment for EU citizens.
The Council’s text maintains the Commission proposal’s core objective of enhancing air quality standards across the EU, while introducing some flexibility for member states in implementing the directive. This approach aims to balance the ambitious goal of zero-pollution by 2050 with the practical challenges faced by individual member states.
In addition to aligning air quality standards with the WHO guidelines, the legislation sets out stricter EU air quality standards to be attained by 2030. These standards, in the form of limit and target values, will apply to a range of air pollutants, including fine particles (PM2.5 and PM10), nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, benzene, arsenic, lead, and nickel. For instance, the annual limit values for PM2.5 and NO2, which have the most significant documented impact on human health, would be reduced from 25 µg/m³ to 10 µg/m³ and from 40 µg/m³ to 20 µg/m³, respectively. These proposed values are closer to the WHO’s guideline values of 5 µg/m³ for PM2.5 and 10 µg/m³ for NO2.
The Council’s text recognizes that achieving air quality limit values in certain locations may be challenging due to factors such as local dispersion characteristics, climatic conditions, and transboundary contributions. To address these challenges, the Council has introduced flexibility measures. For locations where compliance with the directive by the deadline appears unrealistic, member states can request an extension of up to 10 years from the deadline, until no later than January 1, 2040. This extension is particularly relevant for member states with a lower national GDP per capita than the EU average and a higher share of low-income households, where modeling application results indicate that the limit values cannot be reached within the attainment date.
By adopting this comprehensive approach, the European Council has demonstrated its commitment to improving air quality and achieving its zero-pollution target by 2050. The proposed standards, aligned with WHO guidelines, will significantly contribute to protecting public health and safeguarding the environment for future generations.