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10/12/2016

Parliament cuts deal to halve deaths from air pollution

Climate & Environment

Parliament cuts deal to halve deaths from air pollution

Due to intensive lobbying by the agriculture sector, methane was left out of national emissions limits.

[Carsten Linke/Flickr]

The European Council and Parliament agreed on 30 June to revise the National Emission Ceilings Directive, aiming to halve deaths related to air pollution by 2030. Journal de l’Environnement reports.

The 2008 Air Quality Directive is aimed at streamlining and tightening EU legislation dealing with pollution and air standards.

Nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are all targeted under the directive, which also obliges member states must cut exposure to fine particulate matter (particles measuring less than 2.5 microns across) by an average of 20% by 2020, based on 2010 levels.

But after extensive lobbying from the agricultural sector, no limits were placed on methane emissions. The European Commission has said that this may change as part of the broader review of the directive currently under way.

400,000 European citizens die from the effects of air pollution every year. But if it is respected, the proposed amendment to the directive should cut this figure by 49.6% by 2030, a compromise between the positions of the Parliament (52%) and the Council (48%).

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A flexible deal

The compromise gives member states flexibility in a number of ways. Fluctuations in pollution levels will be tolerated, and states are not obliged to report consistently falling pollution figures. Exceptional climatic conditions may also be taken into account, and annual emissions may be carried over and reported as an average with those from the following year.

But France Nature Environnement sees the Parliament’s compromise as an unacceptable trade-off of 10,000 lives every year. For the NGO, it is “disappointing that industry and conventional agriculture benefit to the detriment of the health of European citizens”.

The proposal will be put to a vote in the Parliament’s Environment Committee next Tuesday (12 July).

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Background

Air pollution has different particulate matter (PM) components – smoke, dirt and dust form coarse particles known as PM10 and metals and toxic exhaust from smelting, vehicle exhaust, power plants and refuse burning forming fine particles called PM2.5.

The 2008 Air Quality Directive aimed at streamlining and tightening EU legislation dealing with pollution and air standards. It is now under review.

The directive obliges member states must cut exposure to fine particulate matter by an average of 20% by 2020, based on 2010 levels.

Many of the policies grow out of a 2005 strategy on air pollution, which sought to cut sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 82%, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 60%, volatile organic compounds by 51%, ammonia (NH3) by 27%, and primary fine particulates by 59% compared to the levels of 2000.

Health advocates say the cost of cutting emissions through better smokestack scrubbers, cleaner-burning vehicles and a shift to renewable fuels would be more than offset by savings in treating complications of bad air.

Part of the package is the Nation Emissions Ceiling (NEC) Directive. It sets post-2020 national emissions ceilings (NEC) for six air pollutants, such as particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxide (NOx).