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News 13 September 2023

European Parliament calls for the EU to adopt WHO air quality standards by 2035

The EU has taken a momentous step towards tackling air pollution across the continent. The European Parliament adopted a revised Ambient Air Quality Directive that adheres to the World Health Organization's latest targets.

Earlier today, the European Parliament voted and adopted its position on the revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD), calling for full alignment with World Health Organization’s (WHO) air quality standards by 2035. The vote is a key milestone towards the European Union (EU) adopting final clean air targets as legislation and sends a strong signal to national governments that action on air pollution is an urgent priority for the health of EU citizens.

Air quality is one of the biggest threats to human health and the environment. Despite significant improvements in recent decades, air pollution remains the top environmental cause of premature death in Europe. Air pollution leads to between 240,000 and 300,000 premature deaths every year, and contributes to chronic diseases like asthma, cardiovascular problems, and lung cancer.

The EU has long been a global leader in air quality standards. However, in 2021, the WHO adopted a new set of guidelines that showed Europeans were being exposed to dangerously high levels of air pollution under existing rules. In light of this, last year, the European Commission published its proposal to revise the Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD) with a view to moving towards the WHO guidelines.

Clean Air Fund welcomes the parliament’s position, which not only endorses the European Commission’s legislative proposal setting air quality limit values for 2030, but goes further in pursuing full alignment with WHO guidelines, ensuring all EU citizens breathe healthy air by 2035.

In addition to stronger limit values on air pollution levels, the parliament also suggests widening the scope to access to justice for citizens affected by air pollution, as well as supporting local authorities in strengthening their air quality provisions. Member states have to publish air quality plans and roadmaps, with the aim to set out short- and long-term policies and measures to comply with the targets set.

The European Parliament’s position sends a strong signal for Europe to act now on air pollution. The Ambient Air Quality Directive is not only critical for the health and well-being of European citizens, but also a key reference globally, serving as inspiration for other countries around the world to follow suit.

Agata de Ru, Head of Clean Air Fund’s Europe programme

After the vote, Javi Lopez, rapporteur of the report, received broad support from the parliament’s plenary to take this parliamentary position to upcoming discussions with the European Council. In his short speech, Lopez thanked “the public health community with their support for action on air pollution”. Clean Air Fund has been supporting health and environmental organisations striving for cleaner air for EU citizens, including the European Environmental Bureau, Health and Environment Alliance, European Public Health Alliance, and Transport & Environment. These organisations’ voices are clearly being heard at EU level as they advocate for our health and environment.

With the position of the European Parliament set, all eyes are now on the European Council, which represents national governments. The council will most likely find its opening negotiation position this year. It is hoped that a political agreement between the Parliament and Council will be reached by mid-next year, ahead of the European elections, and the new AAQD will be adopted.