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News 13 March 2024

EU takes important step towards strengthening air quality standards

EU negotiators’ provisional agreement on the revised Ambient Air Quality Directive text is pivotal for cleaning up Europe’s air. But the negotiated text still needs to be swiftly adopted by the European Parliament and member states to become EU law.

On 20 February, the European Union took a pivotal step forward in its commitment to ensuring cleaner air for all its citizens. European legislators agreed a provisional deal regarding the text of the revised Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD) legislation (with the text published this week), which aims to tackle exposure to harmful concentrations of air pollution.

At the heart of this provisional agreement are stricter limits on harmful pollutants, including particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), in line with the World Health Organization’s recommended interim targets (IT4) by 2030. These pollutants, found in the air we breathe, can have severe health impacts, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Unfortunately, some regions will be allowed to delay alignment with the new air quality limits by up to a decade based on specific factors, such as regions that need to replace a considerable fraction of their domestic heating systems. However, several provisions have been included, notably an air quality roadmap that demonstrates how countries can minimise their delayed periods and comply with targets as quickly as possible.

Beyond limit values, the agreement creates a more comprehensive framework for effective air quality management that emphasises accountability, public participation, and adaptive management based on scientific evidence. The legislation includes enhanced provisions for access to justice for those affected by air pollution, which ensures that citizens and NGOs can play an active role in monitoring and enforcing air quality standards.

The text must now pass key votes within the European Parliament, likely in late April, and then the European Council. The Clean Air Fund welcomes the deal and urges the swift adoption of the text.

The provisional political agreement reached by EU negotiators is an important step towards improving the EU’s air quality. Air pollution remains the EU’s single largest environmental cause of premature death, with more than 300,000 lives cut short every year. The Clean Air Fund welcomes the progress made by negotiators and looks forward to a swift formal adoption of the text to ensure our populations begin to reap the benefits of cleaner air without delay.

Michal Len, EU Representative at Clean Air Fund

Health groups across Europe are also calling on fast adoption by member states and the European Parliament:

While regrettably the compromise falls short on fully updating with the scientific recommendations, the package has a huge potential to lessen people’s suffering, prevent disease and achieve economic savings. We urge all MEPs and member states to adopt this revision ahead of the EU elections, as this is an updated law with a clear added value for people.

Anne Stauffer, Deputy Director of Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL)

The EU air quality standards need to be urgently updated. Doctors across Europe agree that we need better air quality, and public authorities and national governments need to act, to help lessen the disease burden.

Dr Christiaan Keijzer, President of the Standing Committee of European Doctors