EU Air Quality Package – Cleaning Up the Skies
On 18 December the European Commission adopted the Clean Air Policy Package aiming to reduce premature mortality and limit environmental damage caused by air pollution. The package entails measures to improve the enforcement of current EU air quality legislation and sets new emission limits for some of the major pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter and will require medium combustion plants to limit the emissions of some pollutants.
The package will impact a wide array of industry sectors, ranging from transport to agriculture, chemicals and energy, setting ambitious new emission reduction commitments. The package will become one of the most controversial dossiers in the second half of 2014 when the new Parliament is starting its work.
According to an analysis by the European Commission (EC) air pollution is the number one environmental cause of premature death in the EU, responsible for ten times the toll of road traffic accidents. In 2010 it caused over 400 000 premature deaths as well as substantial avoidable sickness and suffering including respiratory conditions (such as asthma) and exacerbated cardiovascular problems. The overall external costs of these impacts ranged between €330-940 billion.
The EC started its overhaul in 2005 with the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution and in 2011 the review was officially launched. The review resulted in several legislative initiatives including the directive on sulphur content of bunker fuels and the revision of the non-road mobile machinery legislation. However the air quality package is the culmination of the efforts aiming to improve the EU’s air quality by 2030. The EC claims that this would lead to 500,000 life years gained each year and save an area half the size of Romania from nitrogen pollution. In addition the EC seeks to create synergies with the EU’s climate policies, which to some extent have pushed back air pollution as a political priority. Finally, the EC hopes that the package will provide another boost for Europe’s clean technology industry which is already a world leader today.